YOU’LL hear the story in Takwa—reeking, sweltering, yellow-fevered Takwa, where an impenetrable forest of a dark, mysterious Africa comes down to meet the sea. And a treacherous sea it is—turquoise blue, fringed by a blinding white surf and very lively with sharks.
It was from Takwa that Blakely took off in a plane he had no right to, and there he subsequently returned to smash it up and step from the wreckage with one arm hanging loose and the other round the waist of a girl. Soames, representative of the Dutch Oil Company there, will tell you that she was only a slip of a girl, her clothes in tatters, half naked. She was about eighteen, he thought, and she clung to Blakely like a monkey.
Anyway, that all happened some years ago. Blakely is gone; and since he took the girl away with him, maybe he decided to be done with his lonely nomadic life and now has settled down. But that's only conjecture, for nobody on the Coast knows what happened to him -or to her.
Gone, too, is Fenners, the little runt of a cockney who inadvertently participated in the venture. Only old Soames is left, Soames with a paper-white face under a huge sun helmet, and from what he says, and the scattered and now garbled account of it left by Fenners, the story goes something like this:
It’s not difficult to explain Blakely’s presence in Takwa. He had been one of those unhappy and restless war pilots expatriates, most of ’em banded together and clinging to Paris for the sake of their war experiences, and drinking themselves to death in order to forget.
Blakely broke away from it, bought a yawl and went sailing the seas. There were rumors of him off the coast of China, around Sumatra, in and about the Bolynesian group. When the Kru boys paddled him through the surf into Takwa he came ashore for three good reasons to hire a man to help him on the yawl (the one he had having died at sea), to get water, and to try and find a rare Coast orchid he had heard about.
There was only one white man at loose ends in Takwa, and he was Harry Fenners, formerly a ship’s steward and now an outcast even on the Gold Coast. But Harry was no kind of a hand at anything any more. His spindling physique had become sodden with gin, and the pressure of a thumb and finger around his wizened neck would have turned a kindly trick.
As for orchids, Soames was blunt, in his warning.
“This hell-hole is bad enough.” he said.
"But that”.....and his tired, colorless eyes gazed at the forest—“that’s death! Death in slow and painful doses, and my advice to you is it is better to keep out of it.”
In vain did Blakely try to get a boy to paddle him up the Kugurma. Up that sluggish river dwelt the Fanti and the equally pleasant Akim, products of darkest Africa who were especially interested in any other kind of colored gentlemen and had a delightful custom of slicing them into little strips and frying the pieces in oil.
So Blakely was forced to stay where he was for a while, amid the flies and the stench and in a punishing humidity, with the wall of a tropical forest holding it steady.
He was a picaresque individual, a young fellow of thirty or so, pith helmet cocked over a strong, handsome face, open shirt, dirty white trousers that were shaped only by the thew and sinew of his legs. Something in the way he held himself, the imperturbability of his eye, some quality in his stature, told of heritage and a forsaken culture.
He stuck it for a week or more, then decided to resume his fretful roaming, taking Fenners with him. In fact, he said good-by to Soames and was down on the beach when something happened that set Takwa afire with excitement.
OUT of a blinding sky a plane dipped to make a crazy landing on the sand strip. From the cockpit they lifted a man shrieking with fever. He was a member of the West African Protectorate Patrol, and was raving about a Professor Kenhart, and a lost expedition, signs of which he had for weeks been trying to find.
Takwa, in the person of Soames, had never heard of Professor Kenhart or his expedition, and the mouthings of the Government aviator were taken for so much poppycock. They put the lad to bed and dosed him with quinine.
Here, therefore, was a familiar old instrument at Blakely’s disposal; a two-seater, mounted with a machine gun, petrol tank three-quarters full.
For the last two days he’d been drinking again.
“Let’s cool off for a moment,” he grinned. “Fly round the lot. May find those orchids.”
Fenners gasped when he realized the intention.
“Can you fly one of them there things?” he piped.
“Think so,” hiccoughed Blakely. “Least I’ve seen one before somewhere. Get aboard.”
"Not me,” declined Fenners.
Blakely, intoxicated, was not a man to be argued with. He pitched Fenners into the cockpit, strapped him in, and during the next fifteen minutes performed so many stunts in the air that the Kru boys flew into their huts and grovelled in terror.
To Blakely the feel of the air once again was exulting. To a man of his temperament there was only one thing to do after that. He decided to explore Africa and went inland following the Kugurma River. A good 100 miles from Takwa he still found nothing but dense vegetation, so he swung south in the hope of striking open country.
Soon he saw patches of swamp, then veldt. Noting a herd of antelope, he swooped down over them and scattered them like chaff. Then he noticed something else that had frightened them, the mottled design of a great cat. Used to the operation of a machine gun, he got off a few bursts. The leopard, twisting, beat back on his tracks, making for cover. Blakely banked and dived over the topmost branches, so that the monkeys and parrots flung themselves recklessly out of harm’s way and went screaming through the forest telling of the strange visitation of some devil.
About this time two things happened almost simultaneously. Fenners came to life, and the plane began to go contrariwise. Blakely was flying low, skimming the tops of great bombax, silk cottons, and the vast foliage of an illimitable green forest. The little cockney took one look at his desolate position over Africa and gulped out a single word :
Blakely’s altimeter showed 600. He realized that he couldn’t get much more power out of her. In the far distance was the Kugurma. He’d have to volplane down in a gradual slope, trust to luck and make a landing. The trouble was in the feed line somewhere. Blakely thought he could fix it, but to do that he’d have to come down, and landing out here was a problem. He was suddenly spattered with oil.
“What’s up?” enquired Fenners, wiping his chin. “Something’s gone wrong, ain’t it?”
“Unbuckle your belt,” shouted Blakely.
The landing was as good a job as Blakely ever did with a plane. There was a small clearing in the midst of the forest and he took a desperate chance on it, manoeuvring the ship into a side-slip and making a dead, pancake drop. She landed with a thud that almost knocked the wind out of them. Miraculously she was intact, intact in the centre of a small clearing surrounded on all sides by a density of African brush, vine and the fibrous creepers, but boxed in and blocked from escape by giant bombax and camwood. The incongruity of it, their presence there, amused Blakely.
BUT the fix he was in had sobered him. In the late afternoon glow of a primeval forest, he stood off a little, surveying the situation.
“Sorry, old man,” he told Fenners. “I’ve landed you in a bit of a mess. In fact, I’m afraid that we’re both in for a tough time of it.”
The ground was fairly smooth, an age-old carpet of fern, bush and leaf. Monkeys and hornbills were setting up a prodigious clamor in the trees. Flies by the million began buzzing around them.
Fenners groaned. Slapping his hands and face he began to recite his own obituary.
“Whatever ’appened to poor little 'Arry Fenners?” he asked. “You know, ’im what used to play the mouth organ and dance the ’ornpipe in the ships’ concerts? Oh, I dunno. 'E was a smart little bloke. Retired, maybe? Living with ’is missus in a cottage by the sea?” Still slashing at the gnats, he viciously denied this latter premise. “Not ruddy likely, mate ! A blinking lion chewed the face off ’im in the wilds of Africa.”
“Here,” Blakely called out to him, “help me cut these vines away and let’s try and get her straightened out. I’ve got an idea. We may be able to get out of here yet.”
“Yus,” said Fenners. “On the wings of a dove. That’s the only way we’ll ever fly out of ’ere.”
It was like trying to cut through steel hawsers. The knives they had were useless. Drenched with sweat, they managed instead to pull the creepers away. They slid the longest and most obstinate of them over the wing tips, and eventually the plane settled on an even keel. Blakely examined the broken pipe line.
“I can fix this all right,” he said. “First of all, let’s get that cursed machine gun out of the way.”
“’Ere!” Fenners protested, “don’t you cuss the machine gun. We ’ad better kiss it. We’ll need that when the blinking elephants come.”
“Set it up on the ground,” ordered Blakely.
In the awful humidity, sweat began pouring off them. For an hour, urged on by Blakely, Fenners forgot the insects, his fear of snakes, and put his back into the work of pushing the plane to the very edge of the clearing.
Blakely then examined the undercarriage, lying on his back, insensible to the flies. Rising, he sluiced away the sweat and gazed dubiously at the tangled mass of vine and the threatening height of the bombax.
He was now very sober, his face grave. He repaired the feed line, tightened the wires, then, blocking the wheels, advanced the spark, made contact, and threw over the propeller. Still hot, she burst into song, wafting the insects to blazes and involving the vines, birds and monkeys in a veritable tornado. The roar of the engine spread terror through the forest, and the watching leopard near by thought not upon the order of his going.
“She’ll fly,” said Blakely, throttling her down.
“But,” piped Fenners, “’ow are we ever going to get ’er in the air?”
Blakely shook his head. He was now rather worried. “Sorry, old man,” he said again. “I guess we’ll have to leave her and trek for the river. That’s our only way out of here. We’ll try it first thing in the morning. We’d only lose our direction tonight through this forest.”
He took out his revolver, examined it.
“You stay here,” he said. “I’ll have a look around and see if I can find water.”
He stepped into the bush and came face to face with a young black, naked but for a loin doth and spear. The latter regarded the American with a curious look in his eyes. For some moments he and Blakely stared at each other in silence.
In a twinkling the black vanished, so swiftly, so noiselessly, that Blakely could hardly credit his eyes. The savage’s disappearance, however, was timed with the sound of voices, the clash of knife and axe on forest growth. A mob of blacks were approaching. They were led by a strange individual, a man six feet or more in height and naked from the waist up. He differed from the rest of them in color of skin, which was an oily dark brown, and also he had an unkempt reddish beard. Otherwise he seemed every whit as much of a savage as any of them.
THRUSTING his way through the creepers, he confronted Blakely with a scowl.
"What you want?" he asked in guttural English.
“Water," said Blakely. "Water, no matter what it tastes like."
“What you doing here, eh?’’ he demanded suspiciously. “You want to see me, ya? Martyn’s my name. Vereker Martyn.”
Blakely had heard of the man, through Soames and others. Of German and African Dutch extraction, he had, so it was said, gone native. Tales were told of his cruelty and lasciviousness. But he was a good contact man with the Fanti and Akim, and kept shipping a steady supply of crude palm oil down the river to the company depot at Takwa.
At once Blakely disliked him. He mentioned his name, explained his predicament, and led the way to the clearing. Martyn stiffened when he saw the plane. “Government man. ya?"
“No. I happen to be one of those unfortunate beggars without government—even over myself,’’ he said.
Martyn breathed easier.
“Vell, you land in dangerous spot here,” he said thickly, eyeing the breadth of the stranger’s shoulders. “How you think you get oudt of it?"
“Fly out,” said Blakely. "Lend me a gang of your niggers to clear away more of this brush, and l think I can make it.”
Martyn continued to survey him through hostile and suspicious eyes.
“Ya,” he grunted. “You do nodding much tonight, eh? You bedder gome back to my hut. I gif you somethings to eat and drink maybe.”
The man’s power over his followers was with a bull whip. He bellowed at them in a voice that reverberated through the forest, and cracked the whip over their flanks. They feared and hated him.
While the Fanti commenced hacking a clearing, Martyn led the way to the village.
“Tomorrow," he said sullenly, "my power over them gome to stop for two week.”
Blakely enquired why.
"Tomorrow at sundown, Fanti and Akim go mad. For two week we hold fetish here, voodoo for spirit of river. Und god we call Wassaw.”
The inclusive pronoun chilled Blakely as he glanced at the man.
"Blessings for rain," Martyn went on heavily, “blessings for heat--mit hell keeping it always same thing." He was talking erratically.
“Cripes!” agreed Fenners. “It is rather ‘ot, ain’t it?”
So far, Martyn had completely ignored the little cockney. In the near distance a tom-tom began beating.
“I gif you warning. Blakely, your life not be worth much after sundown tomorrow,”
"The devil you say !” Blakely spoke quietly, but his tone carried a vast amount of opposition. Martyn shot him a quick, furtive look.
Mud huts comprised a straggling village. A little distance removed was Martyn’s bungalow, draped inside and out with dirty netting. The interior smelled to heaven, but was a great relief from the suffocating density of the forest. Blakely’s searching eyes rested on a telephone.
"Guess I’d better get in touch with civilization.”
“Guess nod,” said Martyn. “Someveres wire broken.”
Again Blakely studied him. It was hard to account for a growing suspicion that the man feared something. He was up to some devilment and didn’t like to have strangers around.
Blakely, sensing great danger, accepted the challenge both of Martyn and the forest. His had been a foolhardy venture, and again he felt sorry for Fenners. But perhaps this sort of challenge was just what he needed, and some cord of tension, resistance, began to twang through him, keying him up mentally and physically as he had been in France.
A young, lithe girl, nude but for a few aggry beads, was preparing a meal. Her name seemed to be Tutu, and Martyn addressed her with familiar insolence. Martyn had gone native, all right.
Blakely refused the proffered whisky, but Martyn drank ceaselessly until it was time for bed. Tutu and three other girls rigged up a couple of shakedowns for them. Outside, the tom-tom continued to beat in prognostic monotony.
“You bedder fall in,” Martyn said thickly. “If you go away tomorrow you must be ub early. I haf gang of boys oudt there for you five o’clock.”
But Martyn wasn’t around the following morning, and Tutu said that he had taken a score of blacks and was burying something in the forest. She was too afraid to say more. Martyn reappeared around noon, however, in a surly, savage mood, and for some reason kept a strict distance from Blakely.
It was late in the afternoon when the latter got hold of a whisper that electrified him. Here at last was the probable explanation of Martyn’s strange behavior, the reason he was driving the blacks in an effort to get Blakely away.
Somewhere in the village there was a white girl !
IT WAS Fenners who first heard of it. His long stay in Takwa had enabled him to pick up a few words of the Tshi dialect. He reported the news to Blakely, and Blakely went straight to Martyn.
"Is there a white woman around here?” he asked.
In the silence that followed, Martyn’s eyes slowly narrowed as he reached for his gun.
“If you are wise man, Blakely, you bedder attend to own affairs. Ya?”
“I asked you a question.”
"Und I gif you answer. Ya?”
Blakely measured him. The blacks had ceased working and were now watching them. Blakely couldn’t tell which side they’d be on if it came to a fight.
“I’ll ask you again,” he said. “Maybe you didn’t hear me. Is there a white woman around here?”
Keeping his own eyes steady on him. Blakely noted a slight surrender in Martyn’s.
"There vas,” the man finally admitted. “But she disappear now.”
Blakely squared his jaw.
“Come on,” he said, "let’s have it. Where is she?”
Again Martyn delayed his answer. “Vell,” he said, “if you want truth— she go native.”
For a moment Blakely was stunned by the news. He then said:
"Who is she, and where did she come from?”
The man shuffled.
“I don't find oudt yet. Two days ago she gone here from nowhere. I gif her protection, but she run to the niggers, und now chief priest say she is sent to them from Wassaw.”
Blakely stared at him.
"It all sounds kind of funny to me,” he declared.
“Ya. But we nodding can do about it, eh?”
“We’ll see,” said Blakely. “Where is she? I’d like to have a word with her.”
“You bedder not try it. Blakely,” Martyn’s tone held a note of grim warning. “You like to get head chopped off, ya?”
Blakely’s dislike of him suddenly burst into flame.
“I’d like to tell you what I think of you, Martyn,” he said. “To begin with, I think you’re a liar, and I’m going to do a little investigating around here.”
There was a sudden tensity in Martyn’s arm, the bull whip responding in an ominous little ripple.
“Ach,” he said, spitting tobacco juice. “I haf warn you, ya?” He turned and walked away.
It was getting late. Under the oppressive heat Blakely doubled his efforts to help speed the work. About his head swarmed hundreds of flies and mosquitoes, and nothing but streaming sweat interfered with their feeding. A space about seventy to eighty feet had been partially cleared. It looked woefully small for a take-off.
But Blakely was going to attempt it by means of a daring manoeuvre once successfully employed by an aviator who had found himself similarly placed in the Australian bush. Simply it consisted of leashing the ship to the trunk of a tree, giving her the gun and getting somebody to slash the leash with one clean blow of an axe. Blakely felt that with luck he might clear the trees.
A perceptible gloom suddenly descended on everything, and with it came a stiffening of the blacks. Martyn came back, a lampoon of a grin intensifying the savagery of his face.
“Vell, Blakely,” he said. “I do all I can for you. eh? You got five minutes now,” he grinned, looking at his watch.
Blakely was desperate. A thick strand of fibre was already fastened to his undercarriage. the other end tied, low down, to a tree.
“S’long,” grinned Martyn. “I go now to my hut. You got five—no, three minutes.”
He had miscalculated. The blacks, to a man, ceased working and disappeared like so many wraiths. An orgy of drum beating commenced in the village.
“Good lord!” shouted Blakely. “There’s nobody to cut that rope for us. Hey, there !” he yelled into the forest, “Come back, one of you!”
“I only ’ope they don’t boil me in oil,” said Fenners. “I’ve always ’ad an ’orror of being boiled in oil.”
“Hello,” cried Blakely, “here’s one of ’em, anyhow.”
He wasn’t one of the working party. He was the young black whom Blakely had first met in the forest. He came through the bush, glancing apprehensively behind him, and handed Blakely a message. On it was scrawled :
“Come at once!”
Blakely looked at the black.
“Who gave you this?”
Turning to Fenners, Blakely said:
"Keep an eye peeled, and squeeze your thumb on the machine-gun button if things begin to get rough.” He then nodded to the black. “Lead on, Macduff,” he said.
THE BOY, with a nervous glance to right and left, led the way through the forest. Blakely had difficulty in following him. At length they came out into a small grove of mango. In the centre of it was a large hut made of mud and ornamented by idols. The black put his fingers to his lips and went forward on all fours, Blakely still following him. Suddenly the boy stopped.
“Wait here, bwana,” he whispered.
Crawling forward, he squirmed up to the back of the hut, and vanished. A moment later he reappeared and signalled Blakely to come on. There in the shadow of the hut was a young white girl, golden hair in a wave over her shoulders. Her frightened eyes surveyed Blakely uncertainly.
“In the name of heaven, what’s a girl like you doing around here?” he asked.
“I reached here with my father,” she said, the words seeming to choke her. “My name is Mary Kenhart ...”
Kenhart. Kenhart. Where had he heard that name before? It came to him in a flash. The delirious aviator in Takwa. The lost expedition !
“After reaching Lake Chad,” she said, “all but one of our boys deserted us,” her eyes suddenly filled with tears, “Father and I, with Kwami, had to struggle back alone. We followed the Niger and branched off in the Upper Volta. For days we had no water. Father grew weaker. We had to carry him. Two nights ago we drifted in here.” She spoke as though the words choked her.
“Where is your father now?” he asked bluntly.
For a while she couldn’t bring herself to answer.
“Dead,” she sobbed quietly. “That white man, Martyn ...”
“What?” gasped Blakely.
“I couldn’t tell you everything that happened—almost the moment we reached here—it’s all too horrible,” she shuddered. “He—he forced me into his hut. And when father came—struggled with him—Martyn brutally killed him ...”
The thing staggered Blakely. He felt the blood rush to his head. That, then, explained that early morning burial party in the forest. That was the reason why Martyn wanted him out of the way.
“I managed to escape,” she said, “and in the dark ran in here. It happened to be one of their temples, and because it was the eve of one of their religious festivals they accepted me as a sign from their god. Martyn didn’t dare interfere.”
Blakely yanked out his revolver.
“Come.” he said.
She hung back.
“I’m afraid. You don’t know how crazy my presence here has made them. I’m sure they’ll kill you.” She glanced back at the mud hut and listened.
“For the time being, I’m safe. They won’t harm me. I wanted to warn you; to tell you about Martyn.” Her voice was trembling. “Go down to the coast,” she begged. “Kwami will guide you.”
Blakely looked round for him, but the black boy had vanished.
“Make for Axim or Takwa. Tell them about my father and ask them to come for me. I’m sure I'll be safe here—for two weeks at least. There’s no other way,” she faltered.
“You’re coming with me right now!”
“But—but I’m afraid for you.”
“Come on,” he said firmly. “I’m anxious to see Martyn.”
He chose the easiest way for the girl, straight through the grove and on through the village. There they had a close-hand view of the Fanti hysteria. The din and clatter of their drums and gourds, their unintelligible shouts, screams and ravings nauseated Blakely.
“Ahonsum! Ahonsum!’ (“The devil! The devil !”)
He walked on, the girl just ahead of him. A witch doctor with a terrifying visage, the incisor teeth very large like the tusks of a baboon, came out from a hut. Advancing with a curious running shuffle, a broad-bladed spear in one hand, a long wand in the other, thrusting and feinting with his weapons, his bepainted face writhing with horrible grimaces, he came on until his nose was within an inch of Blakely’s. He fell back in simulated panic, then repeated the whole silly performance, varying it by leaps and shakings. Another savage, tall and muscular, joined in the preamble. He brandished an axe.
DESPITE all these threats, they reached Martyn’s hut unmolested. To Blakely’s disgust the man wasn't there, the hut deserted. All at once the orgy in the village died down, stopped altogether. An ominous hush fell over everything.
Blakely went to the door. From grove and bonfire, from temple, idol and hut, in twos and threes, in bands of fifty, the Akim and Fanti were advancing to meet him like a silent black wave gathering momentum.
Indicating the general direction of the plane. Blakely told the girl to walk on ahead of him.
“Don’t run,” he cautioned her. “Walk.”
Twice he fired over the heads of them, twice cleared a passage. They were out of the village and in the comparative shelter of the forest when a thrown spear grazed Blakely’s arm, above the elbow. Blood began trickling from his fingers.
The girl was plucky.
“You go ahead,” she said. “Give me the revolver.”
He shook his head.
“Keep going. Bear to your left a little.”
Spears and arrows were now flying past them, and their danger was rapidly increasing when Blakely turned and fired again. This time he meant business, and one of the blacks toppled over.
Through the brush they could now sight the plane, and when the girl broke into the clearing Blakely told her to run for it. Something in the brush made her recoil and she screamed. Close behind her Blakely almost stumbled over a body. It was Martyn. Cleft in the back of his head was an axe.
“Make for the plane,” he shouted to her, “and get down in the cockpit.”
Fenners was not to be seen. The machine gun was flung on its side. Blakely was righting it, setting it up in position, when a groan from the bushes made him look up. It was Fenners, blood streaming down the side of his face.
“Martyn,” he said, when Blakely lifted him to his feet.
“He won’t do any damage again,” said Blakely. “Somebody around here made his punishment fit his crime.” A spear whizzed near him, and he ducked. “Look out!" he warned Fenners. “Crawl over to the plane —if you can. Get up inside it—along with that girl.”
In the waning light, he could see that the blacks were slowly encircling them. He set the machine gun in a commanding position and swung the barrel as he pressed on the button. A stream of lead ripped into them at the knee line, and the Fanti and Akim, with wild shrieks and clamorings, began to give ground.
Fenners had disobeyed orders. He had a spear in his hand and was standing by the tree to which was fastened the strand of fibre attached to the plane.
“ ’Ere,” he called feebly to Blakely, “up you get now, and no blooming arguments. Climb into that plane. I’ll cut the rope for you—if I ’ave to bite it in ’alf.”
It was the girl who attracted their attention to Kwami. From somewhere the black boy had materialized, and, pouncing on him, Blakely tried to explain things, pointing to the rope.
“Savvy?” he asked.
With a broad grin. Kwami showed his white teeth.
“Aha.” he said.
“You got axe?”
“Aha.” He grinned again. “You want me get axe?”
"Aha,” said Blakely.
“Aha, bwana. Me get axe for you.”
He was back in a moment, axe in hand, and the blood on its blade cleared up a certain mystery. Suddenly and for the first time, Blakely was apprehensive about the boy.
"You’ll be all right, I suppose, after we’re gone?”
“Aha, bwana. Me all right.”
The girl evidently didn’t share that opinion.
“Kwami,” she cried. “I’ll never, never forget all you’ve done for me.”
The black looked at her.
“Go’by,” he said.
Desperately pressed for time, Blakely still questioned the boy.
“Sure you’ll be all right?” he asked again. “Aha, bwana." The boy kept up his grin. “Chief priest my brother, medicine man my brother, witch doctor my brother.”
BLAKELY knew he was lying, but there was no further time to be lost and arrows were now piercing the fuselage. He gave Kwami his revolver.
“Here, take this.”
Another broad grin.
“Aha, bwana. Everything all right now.” Fenners was aboard. Blakely advanced the spark and swung the propeller. It kicked back obstinately, then burst into a spin. He sprang into the seat and silenced the engine down.
“When I wave my hand,” he yelled back to Kwami, “like this”—he illustrated the signal—“when you see me do this, cut! One stroke. Put all you’ve got into it, like you did over there.” He nodded toward the bushes and Martyn.
Again the boy grinned.
“Aha, bwana. Me do it good. You see.” Blakely turned to the girl. His mouth was set.
“It’s an awful risk with you on my hands,” he told her bluntly. “But it’s the only thing we can do now.”
“I’m willing to trust you,” she said, looking at him.
“You’d far better put your trust in the Lord,” he told her.
He opened the throttle, gradually advanced it. The roar was deafening. Moving forward a few feet, the ship began straining on something that was holding her back. The strain grew intense, and she began to wobble up and down, one wheel then the other off the ground.
She was at the top of her propeller speed when Blakely gave the arranged signal. There was a second’s pause, then the ship shot forward as though from a catapult. He shoved the stick forward and kept it there until he was about halfway across the clearing. Then he savagely jerked it back. The plane seemed to toss up her nose in a challenge and zoomed straight between two giant bombax.
There was a flash of dark foliage, the horrible brushing of something against the undercarriage, then Blakely levelled off, lost altitude again for a dangerous moment, and gradually lifted her clear. It was all over. She was free, a strand of fibre trailing behind her like the string of a kite, and in her wake a cloud of leaves, creeper and dust.
Behind them they left a small clearing in a West African forest. In the centre of it a black boy was waving goodby. Banking, Blakely came round and dipped over him by way of acknowledgment and thanks.
What he saw made him shudder. It was the slow deliberation of the thing that sickened, and with a kick of his foot he swung away from the scene so that Miss Kenhart might be none the wiser.
For Kwami was waiting—possibly with that grin still on his face—waiting to be savaged to death by hundreds of spears.