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This time the crash of noise was terrific. The bullets howled into the corner of the headland. Fragments of splintered rock whined over the beach like hornets. Ricochets twanged and buzzed off into the hinterland. Behind it all there was the steady road-drill hammer of the gun.
There was a pause. New magazine, thought Bond. Now it's us. He could feel the girl clutching at him. Her body was trembling along his flank. Bond reached out an arm and pressed her to him.
The roar of the gun began again. The bullets came zipping along the tideline towards them. There was a succession of quick close thuds. The bush above them was being torn to shreds. 'Zwip. Zwip. Zwip.' It was as if the thong of a steel whip was cutting the bush to pieces. Bits scattered around them, slowly covering them. Bond could smell the cooler air that meant they were now lying in the open. Were they hidden by the leaves and debris? The bullets marched away along the shoreline. In less than a minute the racket stopped.
The silence sang. The girl whimpered softly. Bond hushed her and held her tighter.
The loud-hailer boomed. “Okay, folks. If you still got ears, we'll be along soon to pick up the bits. And we'll be bringing the dogs. 'Bye for now.”
The slow thud of the diesel quickened. The engine accelerated into a hasty roar and through the fallen leaves Bond watched the stern of the launch settle lower in the water as it made off to the west. Within minutes it was out of earshot.
Bond cautiously raised his head. The bay was serene, the beach unmarked. All was as before except for the stench of cordite and the sour smell of blasted rock. Bond pulled the girl to her feet. There were tear streaks down her face. She looked at him aghast. She said solemnly, “That was horrible. What did they do it for? We might have been killed.”
Bond thought, this girl has always had to fend for herself, but only against nature. She knows the world of animals and insects and fishes and she's got the better of it. But it's been a small world, bounded by the sun and the moon and the seasons. She doesn't know the big world of the smoke-filled room, of the bullion broker's parlour, of the corridors and waiting-rooms of government offices, of careful meetings on park seats-she doesn't know about the struggle for big power and big money by the big men. She doesn't know that she's been swept out of her rock pool into the dirty waters.
He said, “It's all right, Honey. They're just a lot of bad men who are frightened of us. We can manage them.” Bond put his arm round her shoulders, “And you were wonderful. As brave as anything. Come on now, we'll look for Quarrel and make some plans. Anyway, it's time we had something to eat. What do you eat on these expeditions?”
They turned and walked up the beach to the headland. After a minute she said in a controlled voice, “Oh, there's stacks of food about. Sea urchins mostly. And there are wild bananas and things. I eat and sleep for two days before I come out here. I don't need anything.”
Bond held her more closely. He dropped his arm as Quarrel appeared on the skyline. Quarrel scrambled down among the rocks. He stopped, looking down. They came up with him. The girl's canoe was sawn almost in half by the bullets. The girl gave a cry. She looked desperately at Bond, “My boat! How am I to get back?”
“Don't you worry, missy.” Quarrel appreciated the loss of a canoe better than Bond. He guessed it might be most of the girl's capital. “Cap'n fix you up wit' anudder. An' yo come back wit' we. Us got a fine boat in de mangrove. Hit not get broke. Ah's bin to see him.” Quarrel looked at Bond. Now his face was worried. “But cap'n, yo sees what I means about dese folk, Dey mighty tough men an” dey means business. Dese dogs dey speak of. Dose is police-houns-Pinschers dey's called. Big bastards. Mah frens tell me as der's a pack of twenty or moh. We better make plans quick-an' good."
“All right, Quarrel. But first we must have something to eat. And I'm damned if I'm going to be scared off the island before I've had a good look. We'll take Honey with us.” He turned to the girl. “Is that all right with you, Honey? You'll be all right with us. Then we'll sail home together.”
The girl looked doubtfully at him. “I guess there's no alternative. I mean. I'd love to go with you if I won't be in the way. I really don't want anything to eat. But will you take me home as soon as you can? I don't want to see any more of those people. How long are you going to be looking at these birds?”
Bond said evasively, “Not long. I've got to find out what happened to them and why. Then we'll be off.” He looked at his watch. “It's twelve now. You wait here. Have a bathe or something. Don't walk about leaving footprints. Come on, Quarrel, we'd better get that boat hidden.”
It was one o'clock before they were ready. Bond and Quarrel filled the canoe with stones and sand until it sank in a pool among the mangroves. They smeared over their footprints. The bullets had left so much litter behind the shoreline that they could do most of their walking on broken leaves and twigs. They ate some of their rations-avidly, the girl reluctantly-and climbed across the rocks and into the shallow water off-shore. Then they trudged along the shallows towards the river mouth three hundred yards away down the beach.
It was very hot. A harsh, baking wind had sprung up from the north-east. Quarrel said this wind blew daily the year round. It was vital to the guanera. It dried the guano. The glare from the sea and from the shiny green leaves of the mangroves was dazzling. Bond was glad he had taken trouble to get his skin hardened to the sun.
There was a sandy bar at the river mouth and a long deep stagnant pool. They could either get wet or strip. Bond said to the girl, “Honey, we can't be shy on this trip. We'll keep our shirts on because of the sun. Wear what's sensible and walk behind us.” Without waiting for her reply the two men took off their trousers. Quarrel rolled them and packed them in the knapsack with the provisions and Bond's gun. They waded into the pool, Quarrel in front, then Bond, then the girl. The water came up to Bond's waist. A big silver fish leaped out of the pool and fell back with a splash. There were arrows on the surface where others fled out of their way. “Tarpon,” commented Quarrel.
The pool converged into a narrow neck over which the mangroves touched. For a time they waded through a cool tunnel, and then the river broadened into a deep sluggish channel that meandered, ahead among the giant spider-legs of the mangroves. The bottom was muddy and at each step their feet sank inches into slime. Small fish or shrimps wriggled and fled from under their feet, and every now and then they had to stoop to brush away leeches before they got hold. But otherwise it was easy going and quiet and cool among the bushes and, at least to Bond, it was a blessing to be out of the sun.
Soon, as they got away from the sea, it began to smell bad with the bad egg, sulphuretted hydrogen smell of marsh gas. The mosquitoes and sandflies began to find them. They liked Bond's fresh body. Quarrel told him to dip himself in the river water. “Dem like dere meat wid salt on him,” he explained cheerfully. Bond took off his shirt and did as he was told. Then it was better and after a while Bond's nostrils even got used to the marsh gas, except when Quarrel's feet disturbed some aged pocket in the mud and a vintage bubble wobbled up from the bottom and burst stinking under his nose.
The mangroves became fewer and sparser and the river slowly opened out. The water grew shallower and the bottom firmer. Soon they came round a bend and into the open. Honey said, “Better watch out now. We'll be easier to see. It goes on like this for about a mile. Then the river gets narrower until the lake. Then there's the sandspit the birdmen lived on.”
They stopped in the shadow of the mangrove tunnel and looked out. The river meandered sluggishly away from them towards the centre of the island. Its banks, fringed with low bamboo and sea-grape, would give only half shelter. From its western bank the ground rose slowly and then sharply up to the sugar-loaf about two miles away which was the guanera.
Round the base of the mountain there was a scattering of Quonset huts. A zigzag of silver ran down the hillside tovthe huts-a Decauville Track, Bond guessed, to bring the guano from the diggings down to the crusher and separator. The summit of the sugar-loaf was white, as if with snow. From the peak flew a smoky flag of guano dust. Bond could see the black dots of cormorants against the white background. They were landing and taking off like bees at a hive.
Bond stood and gazed at the distant glittering mountain of bird dung. So this was the kingdom of Doctor No! Bond thought he had never seen a more godforsaken landscape in his life.
He examined the ground between the river and the mountain. It seemed to be the usual grey dead coral broken, where there was a pocket of earth, by low scrub and screwpalm. No doubt a road or a track led down the mountainside to the central lake and the marshes. It looked bad stuff to cross unless there was. Bond noticed that all the vegetation was bent to the westwards. He imagined living the year round with that hot wind constantly scouring the island, the smell of the marsh gas and the guano. No penal colony could have a worse site than this.
Bond looked to the east. There the mangroves in the marshland seemed more hospitable. They marched away in a solid green carpet until they lost their outline in the dancing heat haze on the horizon. Over them a thick froth of birds tossed and settled and tossed again. Their steady scream carried over on the harsh wind.
Quarrel's voice broke in on Bond's thoughts. “Dey's a comin', cap'n.”
Bond followed Quarrel's eyes. A big lorry was racing down from the huts, dust streaming from its wheels. Bond followed it
. for ten minutes until it disappeared amongst the mangroves at the head of the river. He listened. The baying of dogs came down on the wind.
Quarrel said, “Dey'll come down de ribber, cap'n. Dem'll know we caint move 'cept up de ribber, assumin' we ain't dead. Dey'll surely come down de ribber to de beach and look for de pieces. Den mos' likely de boat come wit' a dinghy an' take de men and dogs off. Leastways, dat's what Ah'd do in dere place.”
Honey said, “That's what they do when they look for me. It's quite all right. You cut a piece of bamboo and when they get near you go under the water and breathe through the bamboo till they've gone by.”
Bond smiled at Quarrel. He said, “Supposing you get the bamboo while I find a good mangrove clump.”
Quarrel nodded dubiously. He started off upstream towards the bamboo thickets. Bond turned back into the mangrove tunnel.
Bond had avoided looking at the girl. She said impatiently, “You needn't be so careful of looking at me. It's no good minding those things at a time like this. You said so yourself.”
Bond turned and looked at her. Her tattered shirt came down to the waterline. There was a glimpse of pale wavering limbs below. The beautiful face smiled at him. In the mangroves the broken nose seemed appropriate in its animalness.
Bond looked at her slowly. She understood. He turned and went on downstream and she followed him.
Bond found what he wanted, a crack in the wall of mangrove that seemed to go deeper. He said, “Don't break a branch.” He bent his head and waded in. The channel went in ten yards. The mud under their feet became deeper and softer. Then there was a solid wall of roots and they could go no farther. The brown water flowed slowly through a wide, quiet, pool. Bond stopped. The girl came close to him. “This is real hide and seek,” she said tremulously.