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Wilbur Smith

Birds Of Prey 1

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Written by Administrator

Posted on 15.04.11

Birds Of Prey [047-142-011-4.7]

By: Wilbur Smith

Category: fiction naval history

Synopsis:

FROM A STORYTELLER AT THE HEIGHT OF HIS POWERS COMES A MAGNIFICENT TALE
OF HIGH SEAS AND HIGH ADVENTURE.

It is 1667 and the mighty naval war between the Dutch and the English
still rages.  Sir Francis Courtney and his son Hal, in their fighting
caravel, are on patrol off Southern Africa, lying in wait for a galleon
of the Dutch East India Company returning from the Orient laden with
spices, timber and gold....


Last printing: 06/02/02
`;47/' ISBN: 0-2844-109-7638-1
Author's Note

Although this story is set
in the mid-seventeenth century, the galleons and caravels in which my
characters find themselves are more usually associated with the
sixteenth century.  Seventeenth-century ships often bore a strong
resemblance to those of the sixteenth century, but as their names may
be unfamiliar to the general reader, I have used the better-known, if
anachronistic, terms to convey an accessible impression of their
appearance.  Also, for the sake of clarity, I have simplified
terminology in respect of firearms and, as it exists as such in common
idiom, I have occasionally used the word "cannon" as a generic.

The boy clutched at the rim of the canvas bucket in which he crouched
sixty feet AT above the deck as the ship went about.  The mast canted
over sharply as she thrust her head through the wind.  The ship was a
caravel named the Lady Edwina, after the mother whom the boy could
barely remember.

Far below in the pre-dawn darkness he heard the great bronze culver ins
slat against their blocks and come up with a thump against their
straining tackle.  The hull throbbed and resonated to a different
impulse as she swung round and went plunging away back into the west.
With the south-east wind now astern she was transformed, lighter and
more limber, even with sails reefed and with three feet of water in her
bilges.

It was all so familiar to Hal Courtney.  He had greeted the last five
and sixty dawns from the masthead in this manner.  His young eyes, the
keenest in the ship, had been posted there to catch the first gleam of
distant sail in the rose of the new day.

Even the cold was familiar.  He pulled the thick woollen Monmouth cap
down over his ears.  The wind sliced through his leather jerkin but he
was inured to such mild discomfort.  He gave it no heed and strained
his eyes out into the darkness.  "Today the Dutchmen will come," he
said aloud, and felt the excitement and dread throb beneath his ribs.

High above him the splendour of the stars began to pale and fade, and
the firmament was filled with the pearly promise of new day.  Now, far
below him, he could make out the figures on the deck.  He could
recognize Ned Tyler, the helmsman, bowed over the whipstall, holding
the ship true; and his own father stooping over the binnacle to read
the new course, the lantern lighting his lean dark features and his
long locks tangling and whipping in the wind.

With a start of guilt Hal looked out into the darkness; he should not
be mooning down at the deck in these vital minutes when, at any moment,
the enemy might loom close at hand out of the night.

By now it was light enough to make out the surface of the sea rushing
by the hull.  It had the hard iridescent shine of new-cut coal.

By now he knew this southern sea so well; this broad highway of the
ocean that flowed eternally down the eastern coast of Africa, blue and
warm and swarming with life.  Under his father's tutelage he had
studied it so that he knew the colour, the taste and run of it, each
eddy and surge.

One day he also would glory in the title of Nautonnier Knight of the
Temple of the Order of St.  George and the Holy Grail.  He would be, as
his father was, a Navigator of the Order.  His father was as determined
as Hal himself to bring that about, and, at seventeen years of age, his
goal was no longer merely a dream.

This current was the highway upon which the Dutchmen must sail to make
their we stings and their landfall on the mysterious coast that still
lay veiled out there in the night.  This was the gateway through which
all must pass who sought to round that wild cape that divided the Ocean
of the Indies from the Southern Atlantic.

This was why Sir Francis Courtney, Hal's father, the Navigator, had
chosen this position, at 34 degrees 25 minutes south latitude, in which
to wait for them.  Already they had waited sixty-five tedious days,
beating monotonously back and forth, but today the Dutchmen might come,
and Hal stared out into the gathering day with parted lips and
straining green eyes.

A cable's length off the starboard bow he saw the flash of wings high
enough in the sky to catch the first rays of the sun, a long flight of
gannets coming out from the land, snowy chests and heads of black and
yellow.  He watched the leading bird dip and turn, breaking the
pattern, and twist its head to peer down into the dark waters.  He saw
the disturbance below it, the shimmer of scales and the seething of the
surface as a shoal came up to the light.  He watched the bird fold its
wings and plunge downwards, and each bird that followed began its dive
at the same point in the air, to strike the dark water in a burst of
lacy foam.

Soon the surface was thrashed white by the diving birds and the
struggling silver anchovies on which they gorged.  Hal turned away his
gaze and swept the opening horizon.

His heart tripped as he caught the gleam of a sail, a tall ship
square-rigged, only a league to the eastward.  He had filled his lungs
and opened his mouth to hail the quarterdeck before he recognized her.
It was the Gull of Moray, a frigate, not a Dutch East Indiaman.  She
was far out of position, which had tricked Hal.

The Gull of Moray was the other principal vessel in the blockading
squadron.  The Buzzard, her captain, should be lying out of sight below
the eastern horizon.  Hal leaned out over the edge of the canvas crow's
nest and looked down at the deck.  His father, fists on his hips, was
staring up at him.

Hal called down the sighting to the quarterdeck, "The Gull hull up to
windward!"  and his father swung away to gaze out to the east.  Sir
Francis picked out the shape of the Buzzard's ship, black against the
darkling sky, and raised the slender brass tube of the telescope to his
eye.  Hal could sense anger in the set of his shoulders and the way in
which he slammed the instrument shut and tossed his mane of black
hair.

Before this day was out words would be exchanged between the two
commanders.  Hal grinned to himself With his iron will and spiked
tongue, his fists and blade, Sir Francis struck terror into those upon
whom he turned them even his brother Knights of the Order held him in
awe.  Hal was thankful that this day his father's temper would be
directed elsewhere than at him.

He looked beyond the Gull of Moray, sweeping the horizon as it extended
swiftly with the coming of day.  Hal needed no telescope to aid his
bright young eyes besides, only one of these costly instruments was
aboard.  He made out the others" sails then exactly where they should
be, tiny pale flecks against the dark sea.  The two pinnaces
maintaining their formation, beads in the necklace, were spread out
fifteen leagues on each side of the Lady Edwina, part of the net his
father had cast wide to ensnare the Dutchmen.

The pinnaces were open vessels, with a dozen heavily armed men crowded
into each.  When not needed they could be broken down and stowed in the
Lady Edwina's hold.  Sir Francis changed their crews regularly, for
neither the tough West Country men nor the Welsh nor the even hardier
ex-slaves that made up most of his crew could endure the conditions
aboard those little ships for long and still be fit for a fight at the
end of it.

At last the full steely light of day struck as the sun rose from the
eastern ocean.  Hal gazed down the fiery path it threw across the
waters.  He felt his spirits slide as he found the ocean empty of a
strange sail.  just as on the sixty-five preceding dawns, there was no
Dutchman in sight.

Then he looked northwards to the land mass that crouched like a great
rock sphim, dark and inscrutable, upon the horizon.  This was the
Agulhas Cape, the southernmost tip of the African continent.

"Africa!"  The sound of that mysterious name on his own lips raised
goose pimples along his arms and made the thick dark hair prickle on
the back of his neck.

"Africa!"  The uncharted land of dragons and other dreadful creatures,
who ate the flesh of men, and of darkskinned savages who also ate men's
flesh and wore their bones as decoration.

"Africa!"  The land of gold and ivory and slaves and other treasures,
all waiting for a man bold enough to seek them out, and, perhaps, to
perish in the endeavour.  Hal felt daunted yet fascinated by the sound
and promise of that name, its menace and challenge.

Long hours he had pored over the charts in his father's cabin when he
should have been learning by rote the tables of celestial passages, or
declining his Latin verbs.  He had studied the great interior spaces,
filled with drawings of elephants and lions and monsters, traced the
outlines of the Mountains of the Moon, and of lakes and mighty rivers
confidently emblazoned with names such as "Khoikhoi', and "Camdeboo',
"Sofala" and "the Kingdom of Prester John'.  But Hal knew from his
father that no civilized man had ever travelled into that awesome
interior and wondered, as he had so many times before, what it would be
like to be the first to venture there.  Prester John particularly
intrigued him.  This legendary ruler of a vast and powerful Christian
empire in the depths of the African continent had existed in the
European mythology for hundreds of years.  Was he one man, or a line of
emperors?  Hal wondered.

Hal's reverie was interrupted by shouted orders from the quarterdeck,
faint on the wind, and the feel of the ship as she changed course.
Looking down, he saw that his father intended to intercept the Gull of
Moray.  Under top sails only, and with all else reefed, the two ships
were now converging, both running westward towards the Cape of Good
Hope and the Atlantic.  They moved sluggishly they had been too long in
these warm southern waters, and their timbers were infested with the
Toredo worm.  No vessel could survive long out here.  The dreaded
shipworrns grew as thick as a man's finger and as long as his arm, and
they bored so close to each other through the planks as to honeycomb
them.  Even from his seat at the masthead Hal could hear the pumps
labouring in both vessels to lower the bilges.  The sound never ceased:
it was like the beating of a heart that kept the ship afloat.  It was
yet another reason why they must seek out the Dutchmen: they needed to
change ships.  The Lady Edwina was being eaten away beneath their
feet.

As the two ships came within hailing distance the crews swarmed into
the rigging and lined the bulwarks to shout ribald banter across the
water.

The numbers of men packed into each vessel never failed to amaze Hal
when he saw them in a mass like this.  The Lady Edwina was a ship of
170 tons burden, with an overall length of little more than 70 feet,
but she carried a crew of a hundred and thirty men if you included
those now manning the two pinnaces.  The Gull was not much larger, but
with half as many men again aboard.

Every one of those fighting men would be needed if they were to
overwhelm one of the huge Dutch East India galleons.  Sir Francis had
gathered intelligence from all the corners of the southern ocean from
other Knights of the Order, and knew that at least five of these great
ships were still at sea.  So far this season twenty-one of the
Company's galleons had made the passage and had called at the tiny
victualling station below the towering Tafelberg, as the Dutch called
it, or Table Mountain at the foot of the southern continent before
turning northwards and voyaging up the Atlantic towards Amsterdam.

Those five tardy ships, still straggling across the Ocean of the
Indies, must round the Cape before the southeasterly trades fell away
and the wind turned foul into the north-west.  That would be soon.

When the Gull of Moray was not cruising in the guerre de course, which
was a euphemism for privateering, Angus Cochran, Earl of Cumbrae,
rounded out his purse by trading for slaves in the markets of
Zanzibar.

Once they had been shackled to the ring bolts in the deck of the long
narrow slave hold, they could not be released until the ship docked at
the end of her voyage in the ports of the Orient.  This meant that even
those poor creatures who succumbed during the dreadful tropical passage
of the Ocean of the Indies must lie rotting with the living in the
confined spaces of the "tween decks.  The effluvium of decaying
corpses, mingled with the waste odour of the living, gave the slave
ships a distinctive stench that identified them for many leagues down
wind.  No amount of scouring with even the strongest lyes could ever
rid a slaver of her characteristic smell.

As the Gull crossed upwind, there were howls of exaggerated disgust
from the crew of the Lady Edwina.  "By God, she stinks like a
dung-heap."

"Did you not wipe your backsides, you poxy vermin?  We can smell you
from here!"  one yelled across at the pretty little frigate.  The
language bawled back from the Gull made Hal grin.  Of course, the human
bowels held no mysteries for him, but he did not understand much of the
rest of it, for he had never seen those parts of a woman to which the
seamen in both ships referred in such graphic detail, nor knew of the
uses to which they could be put, but it excited his imagination to hear
them so described.  His amusement was enhanced when he imagined his
father's fury at hearing it.

Sir Francis was a devout man who believed that the fortunes of war
could be influenced by the god-fearing behaviour of every man aboard.

He forbade gambling, blasphemy and the drinking of strong spirits.

He led prayers twice a day and exhorted his seamen to gentle and
dignified behaviour when they put into port although Hal knew that this
advice was seldom followed.  Now Sir Francis frowned darkly as he
listened to his men exchange insults with those of the Buzzard but, as
he could not-have half the ship's company flogged to signal his
disapproval, he held his tongue until he was in easy hail of the
frigate.

In the meantime he sent his servant to his cabin to fetch his cloak.
What he had to say to the Buzzard was official and he should be in
regalia.  When the man returned, Sir Francis slipped the magnificent
velvet cloak over his shoulders before he lifted his speaking trumpet
to his lips.  "Good morrow, my lord!"

The Buzzard came to his rail and lifted one hand in salute.  Above his
plaid he wore half-armour, which gleamed in the fresh morning light,
but his head was bare, his red hair and beard bushed together like a
haystack, the curls dancing on the wind as though his head was on fire.
"Jesus love you, Franky!"  he bellowed back, his great voice easily
transcending the wind.

"Your station is on the eastern flank!  "The wind and his anger made
Sir Francis short.  "Why have you deserted it?"  The Buzzard spread his
hands in an expressive gesture of apology.  "I have little water and am
completely out of patience.  Sixty-five days are enough for me and my
brave fellows.  There are slaves and gold for the taking along the
Sofala coast."  His accent was like a Scottish gale.

"Your commission does not allow you to attack Portuguese shipping."

"Dutch, Portuguese or Spanish," Cumbrae shouted back.  "Their gold
shines as prettily.  You know well that there is no peace beyond the
Line.  " "You are well named the Buzzard," Sir Francis roared in
frustration, "for you have the same appetite as that carrion bird!"
Yet what Cumbrae had said was true.  There was no peace beyond the
Line.

A century and a half ago, by Papal Bull Inter Caetero of 25 September
1493, the Line had been drawn down the mid-Atlantic, north to south, by
Pope Alexander VI to divide the world between Portugal and Spain.  What
hope was there that the excluded Christian nations, in their envy and
resentment, would honour this declaration?  Spontaneously, another
doctrine, was born: "No peace beyond the Line!"  It became the
watchword of the privateer and the corsair.  And its meaning extended
in their minds to encompass all the unexplored regions of the oceans.

Within the waters of the northern continent, acts of piracy, rapine and
murder whose perpetrator previously would have been hunted down by the
combined navies of Christian Europe and hanged from his own yard-arm
were condoned and even applauded when committed beyond the Line.  Every
embattled monarch signed Letters of Marque that, at a stroke, converted
his merchantmen into privateers, ships of war, and sent them out
marauding on the newly discovered oceans of the expanding globe.

Sir Francis Courtney's own letter had been signed by Edward Hyde, Earl
of Clarendon, the Lord Chancellor of England, in the name of His
Majesty King Charles II.  It sanctioned him to hunt down the ships of
the Dutch Republic, with which England was at war.

"Once you desert your station, you forfeit your rights to claim a share
of any prize!"  Sir Francis called across the narrow strip of water
between the ships, but the Buzzard turned away to issue orders to his
helmsman.

He shouted to his piper, who stood at the ready, "Give Sir Francis a
tune to remember us by!"  The stirring strains of "Farewell to the
Isles" carried across the water to the Lady Edwina, as the Buzzard's
topmast men clambered like monkeys high into the rigging, and loosed
the reefs.  The Gull's top-hamper billowed out.  The main sail filled
with a boom like the discharge of cannon, she heeled eagerly to the
south-easter and pressed her shoulder into the next blue swell,
bursting it asunder.

As the Buzzard pulled away rapidly he came back to the stern rail, and
his voice lifted above the skirling of the pipes and the whimper of the
wind.  "May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ shield you, my revered
brother Knight."  But on the Buzzard's lips it sounded like
blasphemy.

With his cloak, which was quartered by the crimson croix pat tie of the
Order, billowing and flapping from his wide shoulders, Sir Francis
watched him go.

Slowly the ironic cheering and heavy banter of the men died away.  A
sombre new mood began to infect the ship as the company realized that
their forces, puny before, had been more than halved in a single
stroke.  They had been left alone to meet the Dutchmen in whatever
force they might appear.  The seamen that crowded the Lady Edwina's
deck and rigging were silent now, unable to meet each other's eyes.

Then Sir Francis threw back his head and laughed.  "All the more for us
to share!"  he cried, and they laughed with him and cheered as he made
his way to his cabin below the poop deck.

For another hour Hal stayed at the masthead.  He wondered how long the
men's buoyant mood could last, for they were down to a mug of water
twice a day.  Although the land and its sweet rivers lay less than half
a day's sailing away, Sir Francis had not dared detach even one of the
pinnaces to fill the casks.  The Dutchmen might come at any hour, and
when they did he would need every man.

At last a man came aloft to relieve Hal at the lookout.  "what is there
to see, lad?"  he asked, as he slipped into the canvas crow's nest
beside Hal.

"Precious little," Hal admitted, and pointed out the tiny sails of the
two pirmaces on the distant horizon.  "Neither carries any signals,"
Hal told him.  "Watch for the red flag it'll mean they have the chase
in sight."

The sailor grunted.  "You'll be teaching me to fart next."  But he
smiled at Hal in avuncular fashion the boy was the ship's favourite.

Hal grinned back at him.  "God's truth, but you need no teaching,
Master Simon.  I've heard you at the bucket in the heads.  I'd rather
face a Dutch broadside.  You nigh crack every timber in the hull."

Simon let out an explosive guffaw, and punched Hal's shoulder.  "Down
with you, lad, before I teach you to fly like an albatross."

Hal began to scramble down the shrouds.  At first he moved stiffly, his
muscles cramped and chilled after the long vigil, but he soon warmed up
and swung down lithely.

Some of the men on the deck paused at their labours on the pumps, or
with palm and needle as they repaired win dripped canvas, and watched
him.  He was as robust and broad-shouldered as a lad three years older,
and long in limb he already stood as tall as his father.  Yet he still
retained the fresh smooth skin, the unlined face and sunny expression
of boyhood.  His hair, tied with a thong behind his head, spilled from
under his cap and glistened blueblack in the early sunlight.  At this
age his beauty was still almost feminine, and after more than four
months at sea since they had laid eyes on a woman some, whose fancy lay
in that direction, watched him lasciviously.

Hal reached the main yard and left the security of the mast.  He ran
out along it, balancing with the ease of an acrobat forty feet above
the curling rush of the bow wave and the planks of the main deck.

Now every eye was on him-.  it was a feat that few aboard would care to
emulate.

"For that you have to be young and stupid," Ned Tyler growled, but
shook his head fondly as he leaned against the whipstall and stared
up.

"Best the little fool does not let his father catch him playing that
trick."

Hal reached the end of the yard and without pause swung out onto the
brace and slid down it until he was ten feet above the deck.  From
there he dropped to land lightly on his hard bare feet, flexing his
knees to absorb the impact on the scrubbed white planks.

He bounced up, turned towards the stern and froze at the sound of an
inhuman cry.  It was a primordial bellow, the menacing challenge of
some great predatory animal.

Hal remained pinned to the spot for only an instant then instinctively
spun away as a tall figure charged down upon him.  He heard the fluting
sound in the air before he saw the blade and ducked under it.  The
silver steel flashed over his head and his attacker roared again, a
screech of fury.

Hal had a glimpse of his adversary's face, black and glistening, a cave
of a mouth lined with huge square white teeth, the tongue as pink and
curled as a leopard's as he screamed.

Hal danced and swayed as the silver blade came arcing back.  He felt a
tug at the sleeve of his jerkin as the sword point split the leather,
and fell back.

"Ned, a blade!"  he yelled wildly at the helmsman behind him, never
taking his eyes off those of his assailant.  The pupils were black and
bright as obsidian, the iris opaque with fury, the whites engorged with
blood.

Hal leaped aside at the next wild charge, and felt on his cheek the
draught of the blow.  Behind him he heard the scrape of a cutlass drawn
from the boatswain's scabbard, and the weapon slide across the deck
towards him.  He stooped smoothly and gathered it up, the hilt coming
naturally to his hand, as he went into the guard stance and aimed the
point at the eyes of his attacker.

In the face of Hal's menacing blade, the tall man checked his next rush
and when, with his left hand, Hal drew from his belt his ten-inch dirk
and offered that point also, the mad light in his eyes turned cold and
appraising.  They circled each other on the open deck below the
mainmast, their blades weaving, touching and tapping lightly, as each
sought an opening.

The seamen on the deck left their tasks even those on the handles of
the pumps and came running to form a ring around the swordsmen as
though they watched a cockfight, their faces alight with the prospect
of seeing blood spurt.  They growled and hooted at each thrust and
parry, and urged on their favourites.

"Hack out his big black balls, young Hal!"  "Pluck the cockerel's saucy
tail feathers for him."  Aboli stood five inches taller than Hal, and
there was no fat on his lean, supple frame.  He was from the eastern
coast of Africa, of a warrior tribe highly prized by the slavers. Every
hair had been carefully plucked from his pate, which gleamed like
polished black marble, and his cheeks were adorned with ritual tattoos,
whorls of raised cicatrices that gave him a terrifying appearance.  He
moved with a peculiar grace, on those long muscular legs, swaying from
the waist like some huge black cobra.  He wore only a petticoat of
tattered canvas, and his chest was bare.  Each muscle in his torso and
upper arms seemed to have a life of its own, serpents slithering and
coiling beneath the oiled skin.

He lunged suddenly, and with a desperate effort Hal turned the blade,
but.  almost in the same instant Aboli reversed the blow, aiming once
more at his head.  There was such power in his stroke that Hal knew he
could not block it with cutlass alone.  He threw up both blades,
crossing them, and trapped the Negro's high above his head.  Steel rang
and thrilled on steel, and the crowd howled at the skill and grace of
the parry.

But at the fury of the attack Hal gave a pace, and another then another
as Aboli pressed him again and again, giving him no respite, using his
greater height and superior strength to counter the boy's natural
ability.

Hal's face mirrored his desperation.  He gave more readily now and his
movements were uncoordinated: he was tired and fear dulled his
responses.  The cruel watchers turned against him, yelling for blood,
urging on his implacable opponent.

"Mark his pretty face, Aboli!"  "Give us a look at his guts!"

Sweat greased Hal's cheeks and his expression crumpled as Aboli drove
him back against the mast.  He seemed much younger suddenly, and on the
point of tears, his lips quivering with terror and exhaustion.  He was
no longer counter-attacking.  Now it was all defence.  He was fighting
for his life.

Relentlessly Aboli launched a fresh attack, swinging at Hal's body,
then changing the angle to cut at his legs.  Hal was near the limit of
his strength, only just managing to fend off each blow.

Then Aboli changed his attack once more: he forced Hal to overreach by
feinting low to the left hip, then shifted his weight and lunged with a
long right arm.  The shining blade flew straight through Hal's guard
and the watchers roared as at last they had the blood they craved.

Hal reeled sideways off the mast and stood panting in the sunlight,
blinded by his own sweat.  Blood dripped slowly onto his jerkin but
from a nick only, made with a surgeon's skill.

"Another scar for you each time you fight like a woman!"  Aboli scolded
him.

With an expression of exhausted disbelief, Hal raised his left hand,
which still held the dirk, and with the back of his fist wiped the
blood from his chin.  The tip of his earlobe was neatly split and the
quantity of blood exaggerated the severity of the wound.

The spectators bellowed with derision and mirth.

"By Satan's teeth!"  one of the coxswains laughed.  "The pretty boy has
more blood than he has guts!"

At the gibe, a swift transformation came over Hal.  He lowered his dirk
and extended the point in the guard position, ignoring the blood that
still dripped from his chin.  His face was blank, like that of a
statue, and his lips set and blanched frosty white.  From his throat
issued a low growl, and he launched himself at the Negro.

He exploded across the deck with such speed that Aboli was taken by
surprise and driven back.  When they locked blades he felt the new
power in the boy's arm, and his eyes narrowed.  Then Hal was upon him
like a wounded wildcat bursting from a trap.

Pain and rage put wings on his feet.  His eyes were pitiless and his
clenched jaws tightened the muscles of his face into a mask that
retained no trace of boyishness.  Yet his fury had not robbed him of
reason and cunning.  All the skill that the lad had accumulated, over
hundreds of hours and days upon the practice deck, suddenly
coalesced.

The watchers bayed as this miracle took place before their eyes.  It
seemed that, in that instant, the boy had become a man, had grown in
stature so that he stood chin to chin and eye to eye with his dark
adversary.

It cannot last, Aboli told himself, as he met the attack.  His strength
cannot hold out.  But this was a new man he confronted, and he had not
yet recognized him.

Suddenly he found himself giving ground he will tire soon but the twin
blades that danced before his eyes seemed dazzling and ethereal, like
the dread spirits of the dark forests that had once been his home.

He looked into the pale face and burning eyes and did not know them. He
felt a superstitious awe assail him, which slowed his right arm. This
was a demon, with a demon's unnatural strength.  He knew that he was in
danger of his life.

The next coup sped at his chest, glancing through his guard like a
sunbeam.  He twisted aside his upper body, but the thrust raked under
his raised left arm.  He felt no pain but heard the rasp of the razor
edge against his ribs, and the warm flood of blood down his flank.  And
he had ignored the weapon in Hal's left fist and the boy used either
hand with equal ease.

At the edge of his vision he saw the shorter, stiffer blade speed
towards his heart and threw himself back to avoid it.  His heel caught
in the tail of the yard brace, coiled on the deck, and he went
sprawling.  The elbow of his sword arm slammed into the gunwale,
numbing it to the fingertips, and the cutlass flew from his fingers.

On his back, Aboli looked up helplessly and saw death above him in
those terrifying green eyes.  This was not the face of the child who
had been his ward and special charge for the last decade, the boy he
had cherished and trained and loved over ten long years.  This was a
man who would kill him.  The bright point of the cutlass started down,
aimed at his throat, with the full weight of the lithe young body
behind it.

"Henry!"  A stern, authoritative voice rang across the deck, cutting
through the hubbub of the blood-crazed spectators.

Hal started, and stood still with the point against Aboli's throat.  A
bemused expression spread across his face, like that of an awakening
dreamer, and he looked up at his father on the break of the poop.

"Avast that tomfoolery.  Get you down to my cabin at once.

Hal glanced around the deck, at the flushed, excited faces surrounding
him.  He shook his head in puzzlement, and looked down at the cutlass
in his hand.  He opened his fingers and let it drop to the planks.  His
legs turned to water under him and he sank down on top of Aboli and
hugged him as a child hugs his father.

"Aboli!"  he whispered, in the language of the forests that the black
man had taught him and which was a secret no other white man on the
ship shared with them.  "I have hurt you sorely.  The blood!  By my
life, I could have killed you Aboli chuckled softly and answered in the
same language, "It was past time.  At last you have tapped the well of
warrior blood.  I thought you would never find it.  I had to drive you
hard to it."

He sat up and pushed Hal away, but there was a new light in his eyes as
he looked at the boy, who was a boy no longer.  "Go now and do your
father's bidding!"

Hal stood up shakily and looked again round the circle of faces, seeing
an expression in them that he did not recognize: it was respect mingled
with more than a little fear.

"What are you gawking at?"  bellowed Ned Tyler.  "The play is over.  Do
you have no work to do?  Man those pumps.  Those topgallants are
luffing.  I can find mastheads for all idle hands."  There was the
thump of bare feet across the deck as the crew rushed guiltily to their
duties.

Hal stooped, picked up the cutlass, and handed it back to the
boatswain, hilt first.

"Thank you, Ned.  I had need of it."

"And you put it to good use.  I have never seen that heathen bested,
except by your father before you."

Hal tore a handful of rag from the tattered hem of his canvas
pantaloons, held it to his ear to staunch the bleeding, and went down
to the stern cabin.

Sir Francis looked up from his log-book, his goose quill poised over
the page.  "Do not look so smug, puppy," he grunted at Hal.  "Aboli
toyed with you, as he always does.  He could have spitted you a dozen
times before you turned it with that lucky coup at the end."

When Sir Francis stood up there was hardly room for them both in the
tiny cabin.  The bulkheads were lined from deck to deck with books,
more were stacked about their feet and leather-bound volumes were
crammed into the cubby-hole that served his father as a bunk.  Hal
wondered where he found place to sleep.

His father addressed him in Latin.  When they were alone he insisted on
speaking the language of the educated and cultivated man.  "You will
die before you ever make a swordsman, unless you find steel in your
heart as well as in your hand.  Some hulking Dutchman will cleave you
to the teeth at your first encounter."  Sir Francis scowled at his son,
"Recite the law of the sword."

"An eye for his eyes," Hal mumbled in Latin.

"Speak up, boy!"  Sir Francis's hearing had been dulled by the blast of
culver ins over the years a thousand broadsides had burst around his
head.  At the end of an engagement, blood would be seen dripping from
the ears of the seamen beside the guns and for days after even the
officers on the poop heard heavenly bells ring in their heads.

"An eye for his eyes," Hal repeated roundly, and his father nodded.

"His eyes are the window to his mind.  Learn to read in them his
intentions before the act.  See there the stroke before it is
delivered.  What else?"

"The other eye for his feet," Hal recited.

"Good."  Sir Francis nodded.  "His feet will move before his hand.

What else?"

"Keep the point high."

"The cardinal rule.  Never lower the point.  Keep it aimed at his
eyes."

Sir Francis led Hal through the catechism, as he had countless times
before.  At the end, he said, "Here is one more rule for you.  Fight
from the first stroke, not just when you are hurt or angry, or you
might not survive that first wound."

He glanced up at the hourglass hanging from the deck above his head.
"There is yet time for your reading before ship's prayers."  He spoke
in Latin still.  "Take up your Livy and translate from the top of page
twenty-six."

For an hour Hal read aloud the history of Rome in the original,
translating each verse into English as he went.  Then, at last, Sir
Francis closed his Livy with a snap.  "There is improvement.  Now,
decline the verb dur are

That his father should choose this one was a mark of his approval.

Hal recited it in a breathless rush, slowing when he came to the future
indicative.  Vurabo.  I shall endure."

That word formed the motto of the Courtney coat-of arms and Sir Francis
smiled frostily as Hal voiced it.

"May the Lord grant you that grace."  He stood up.  "You may go now but
do not be late for prayers."

Rejoicing to be free, Hal fled from the cabin and went bounding up the
companionway.

Aboli was squatting in the lee of one of the hulking bronze culver ins
near the bows.  Hal knelt beside him.  "I wounded you."

Aboli made an eloquent dismissive gesture.  "A chicken scratching in
the dust wounds the earth more gravely."

Hal pulled the tarpaulin cloak off Aboli's shoulders, seized the elbow
and lifted the thickly muscled arm high to peer at the deep slash
across the ribs.  "None the less, this little chicken gave you a good
pecking," he observed drily, and grinned as Aboli opened his hand and
showed him the needle already threaded with sail maker yarn.  He
reached for it, but Aboli checked him.

"Wash the cut, as I taught you."

"With that long black python of yours you could reach it yourself," Hal
suggested, and Aboli emitted his long, rolling laugh, soft and low as
distant thunder.

"We will have to make do with a small white worm."

Hal stood and loosed the cord that held up his pantaloons.  He let them
drop to his knees, and with his right hand drew back his foreskin.

"I christen you Aboli, lord of the chickens!"  He imitated his own
father's preaching tone faithfully, and directed a stream of yellow
urine into the open wound.

Although Hal knew how it stung, for Aboli had done the same many times
for him, the black features remained impassive.  Hal irrigated the
wound with the very last drop and then hoisted his breeches.  He knew
how efficacious this tribal remedy of Aboli's was.  The first time it
had been used on him he had been repelled by it, but in all the years
since then he had never seen a wound so treated mortify.

He took up the needle and twine, and while Aboli held the lips of the
wound together with his left hand, Hal laid neat sail maker stitches
across it, digging the needle point through the elastic skin and
pulling his knots up tight.  When he was done, he reached for the pot
of hot tar that Aboli had ready.  He smeared the sewn wound thickly and
nodded with satisfaction at his handiwork.

Aboli stood up and lifted his canvas petticoats.  "Now we will see to
your ear," he told Hal, as his own fat penis overflowed his fist by
half its length.

Hal recoiled swiftly.  "It is but a little scratch, he protested, but
Aboli seized his pigtail remorselessly and twisted his face upwards.

At the stroke of the bell the company crowded into the waist of the
ship, and stood silent And bare-headed in the sunlight even the black
tribesmen, who did not worship exclusively the crucified Lord but other
gods also whose abode was the deep dark forests of their homes.

When Sir Francis, great leather-bound Bible in hand, intoned
sonorously, "We pray you, Almighty God, deliver the enemy of Christ
into our hands that he shall not triumph..  ."  his eyes were the only
ones still cast heavenward.  Every other eye in the company turned
towards the east from where that enemy would come, laden with silver
and spices.

Half-way through the long service a line squall came boring up out of
the east, wind driving the clouds in a tumbling dark mass over their
heads and deluging the decks with silver sheets of rain.  But the
elements could not conspire to keep Sir Francis from his discourse with
the Almighty, so while the crew huddled in their tar-daubed canvas
jackets, with hats of the same material tied beneath their chins, and
the water streamed off them as off the hides of a pack of beached
walrus, Sir Francis missed not a beat of his sermon.  "Lord of the
storm and the wind," he prayed, "succour us.  Lord of the battle4 me be
our shield and buckler..."

The squall passed over them swiftly and the sun burst forth again,
sparkling on the blue swells and steaming on the decks.

Sir Francis clapped his wide-brimmed cavalier hat back on his head, and
the sodden white feathers that surmounted it nodded in approval.
"Master Ned, run out the guns."

It was the proper course to take, Hal realized.  The rain squall would
have soaked the priming and wet the loaded powder.  Rather than the
lengthy business of drawing the shot and reloading, his father would
give the crews some practice.

"Beat to quarters, if you please."

The drum-roll echoed through the hull, and the crew ran grinning and
joking to their stations.  Hal plunged the tip of a slow-match into the
charcoal brazier at the foot of the mast.  When it was smouldering
evenly, he leapt into the shrouds and, carrying the burning match in
his teeth, clambered up to his battle station at the masthead.

On the deck he saw four men sway an empty water cask up from the hold
and stagger with it to the ship's side.  At the order from the poop,
they tossed it over and left it bobbing in the ship's wake.  Meanwhile
the gun crews knocked out the wedges and, heaving at the tackles, ran
out the culver ins  On either side of the lower deck there were eight,
each loaded with a bucketful of powder and a ball.  On the upper deck
were ranged ten demi-culver ins five on each side, their long barrels
crammed with grape.

The Lady Edwina was low on iron shot after her two year-long cruise,
and some of the guns were loaded with water-rounded flint marbles
hand-picked from the banks of the river mouths where the watering
parties had gone ashore.  Ponderously she came about, and settled on
the new tack, beating back into the wind.  The floating cask was still
two cables" length ahead but the range narrowed slowly.  The gunners
strode from cannon to cannon, pushing in the elevation wedges and
ordering the training tackles adjusted.  This was a specialized task:
only five men aboard had the skill to load and lay a gun.

In the crow's nest, Hal swung the long-barrelled falconer on its swivel
and aimed down at a length of floating kelp that drifted past on the
current.  Then with the point of his dirk he scraped the damp, caked
powder out of the pan of the weapon, and carefully repacked it with
fresh powder from his flask.  After ten years of instruction by his
father, he was as skilled as Ned Tyler, the ship's master gunner, in
the esoteric art.  His rightful battle station should have been on the
gundeck, and he had pleaded with his father to place him there but had
been answered only with the stern retort, "You will go where I send
you."  Now he must sit up here, out of the hurly-burly, while his
fierce young heart ached to be a part of it.

Suddenly he was startled by the crash of gunfire from the deck below, A
long dense plume of smoke billowed out and the ship heeled slightly at
the discharge.  A moment later a tall fountain of foam rose
dramatically from the surface of the sea fifty yards to the right and
twenty beyond the floating cask.  At that range it was not bad
shooting, but the deck erupted in a chorus of jeers and whistles.

Ned Tyler hurried to the second culverin, and swiftly checked its lay.
He gestured for the men on the tackle to train it a point left then
stepped forward and held the burning match to the touch hole.  A
fizzling puff of smoke blew back and then, from the gaping muzzle, came
a shower of sparks, half-burned powder and clods of damp, caked muck.
The ball rolled down the bronze barrel and fell into the sea less than
half-way to the target cask.  The crew howled with derision.

The next two weapons misfired.  Cursing furiously, Ned ordered the
crews to draw the charges with the long iron corkscrews as he hurried
on down the line.

"Great expense of powder and bullet!"  Hal recited to himself the words
of the great Sir Francis Drake for whom his own father had been
christened spoken after the first day of the epic battle against the
Armada of Philip 11, King of Spain, led by the Duke of Medina Sidonia.
All that long day, under the dun fog of gunsmoke, the two great fleets
had loosed their mighty broadsides at each other, but the barrage had
sent not a single ship of either fleet to the bottom.

"Fright them with cannon," Hal's father had instructed him, "but sweep
their decks with the cutlass," and he voiced his scorn for the rowdy
but ineffectual art of naval gunnery.  It was impossible to aim a ball
from the plunging deck of one ship to a precise point on the hull of
another- accuracy was in the hands of the Almighty rather than those of
the master gunner.

As if to illustrate the point, after Ned had fired every one of the
heavy guns on board six had misfired and the nearest he had come to
striking the floating cask was twenty yards.  Hal shook his head sadly,
reflecting that each of those shots had been carefully laid and aimed.
In the heat of a battle, with the range obscured by billowing smoke,
the powder and shot stuffed in haste into the muzzles, the barrels
heating unevenly and the match applied to pan by excited and terrified
gunners, the results could not be even that satisfactory.

At last his father looked up at Hal.  "Masthead!"  he roared.

Hal had feared himself forgotten.  Now, with a thrill of relief, he
blew on the tip of the smouldering slow-match in his hand.  It glowed
bright and fierce.

From the deck Sir Francis watched him, his expression stern and
forbidding.  He must never let show the love he bore the boy.  He must
be hard and critical at all times, driving him on.  For the boy's own
sake nay, for his very life he must force him to learn, to strive, to
endure, to run every step of the course ahead of him with all his
strength and all his heart.  Yet, without making it apparent, he must
also help, encourage and assist him.  He must shepherd him wisely,
cunningly towards his destiny.  He had delayed calling upon Hal until
this moment, when the cask floated close alongside.

If the boy could shatter it with the small weapon where Ned had failed
with the great cannon, then his reputation with the crew would be
enhanced.  The men were mostly boisterous ruffians, simple illiterates,
but one day Hal would be called upon to lead them, or others like them.
He had made a giant stride today by be sting Aboli before them all.
Here was a chance to consolidate that gain.  "Guide his hand, and the
flight of the shot, oh God of the battle-line!"  Sir Francis prayed
silently, and the ship's company craned their necks to watch the lad
high above them.

Hal hummed softly to himself as he concentrated on the task, conscious
of the eyes upon him.  Yet he did not sense the importance of this
discharge and was oblivious of his father's prayers.  It was a game to
him, just another chance to excel.  Hal liked to win, and each time he
did so he liked it better.  The young eagle was beginning to rejoice in
the power of his wings.

Gripping the end of the long brass monkey tail, he swivelled the
falconer downwards, peering over the yard long barrel, lining up the
notch above the pan with the pip on the muzzle end.

He had learned that it was futile to aim directly at the target.  There
would be a delay of seconds from when he applied the slow-match, to the
crash of the shot, and in the meantime ship and cask would be moving in
opposite directions.  There was also the moment when the discharged
balls were in flight before they struck.  He must gauge where the cask
would be when the shot reached it and not aim for the spot where it had
been when he pressed the match to the pan.

He swung the pip of the foresight smoothly over the target, and touched
the glowing end of the match to the pan.  He forced himself not to
flinch away from the flare of burning powder nor to recoil in
anticipation of the explosion but to keep the barrels swinging gently
in the line he had chosen.

With a roar that stung his eardrums the falconer bucked heavily against
its swivel, and everything disappeared in a cloud of grey smoke.
Desperately he craned his head left and right, trying to see around the
smoke, but it was the cheers from the decks below that made his heart
leap, reaching him even through his singing ears.  When the wind
whisked away the smoke, he could see the ribs of the shattered cask
swirling and tumbling astern in the ship's wake.  He hooted with glee,
and waved his cap at the faces on the deck far below.  Aboli was at his
place in the bows, coxswain and gun captain of the first watch.  He
returned Hal's beatific grin and beat his chest with one fist, while
with the other he brandished the cutlass over his bald head.

The drum rolled to end the drill and stand down the crew from their
battle stations.  Before he dropped down the shrouds Hal reloaded the
falconet carefully and bound a strip of tar-soaked canvas around the
pan to protect it from dew, rain and spray.

As his feet hit the deck he looked to the poop, trying to catch his
father's eye and glean his approbation.  But Sir Francis was deep in
conversation with one of his petty officers.  A moment passed before he
glanced coldly over his shoulder at Hal.  "What are you gawking at,
boy?  There are guns to be reloaded."

As he turned away Hal felt the bite of disappointment, but the rowdy
congratulations of the crew, the rough slaps across his back and
shoulders as he passed down the gundeck, restored his smile.

When Ned Tyler saw him coming he stepped back from the breech of the
culverin he was loading and handed the ramrod to Hal.  "Any oaf can
shoot it, but it takes a good man to load it," he grunted, and stood
back critically to watch Hal measure a charge from the leather powder
bucket.  "What weight of powder?"  he asked, and Hal gave the same
reply he had a hundred times before.

"The same weight as that of the round shot."

The black powder comprised coarse granules.  There had been a time
when, shaken and agitated by the ship's way or some other repetitive
movement, the three essential elements, sulphur, charcoal and
saltpetre, might separate out and render it useless.  Since then the
process of "coming" had evolved, whereby the fine raw powder was
treated with urine or alcohol to set it into a cake, which was then
crushed in a ball mill to the required size of granules.  Yet the
process was not perfect and a gunner must always have an eye for the
condition of his powder.  Damp or age could degrade it.  Hal tested the
grains between his fingers and tasted a dab.  Ned Tyler had taught him
to differentiate between good and degenerate powder in this way.  Then
he poured the contents of the bucket into the muzzle, and followed it
with the oakum wadding.

Then he tamped it down with the long wooden-handled ramrod.  This was
another crucial part of the process: tamped too firmly, the flame could
not pass through the charge and a misfire was inevitable, but not
tamped firmly enough, and the black powder would burn without the power
to hurl the heavy projectile clear of the barrel.  Correct tamping was
an art that could only be learned from prolonged practice, but Ned
nodded as he watched Hal at work.

It was much later when Hal scrambled up again into the sunlight.  All
the culver ins were loaded and secured behind their ports and Hal's
bare upper body was glistening with sweat from the heat of the cramped
gundeck and his labours with the ramrod.  As he paused to wipe his
streaming face, draw a breath and stretch his back, after crouching so
long under the cramped head space of the lower deck, his father called
to him with heavy irony, "Is the ship's position of no interest to you,
Master Henry?"

With a start Hal glanced up at the sun.  It was high in the heavens
above them: the morning had sped away.  He raced to the companionway,
dropped down the ladder, burst into his father's cabin, and snatched
the heavy backstaff from its case on the bulkhead.  Then he turned and
ran back to the poop deck.

"Pray God, I'm not too late," he whispered to himself, and glanced up
at the position of the sun.  It was over the starboard yard-arm.  He
positioned himself with his back to it and in such a way that the
shadow cast by the main sail would not screen him, yet so that he had a
clear view of the horizon to the south.

Now he concentrated all his attention on the quadrant of the backstaff.
He had to keep the heavy instrument steady against the ship's motion.
Then he must read the angle that the sun's rays over his shoulder
subtended onto the quadrant, which gave him the sun's inclination to
the horizon.  It was a juggling act that required strength and
dexterity.

At last he could observe noon passage, and read the sun's angle with
the horizon at the precise moment it reached its zenith.  He lowered
the backstaff with aching arms and shoulders, and hastily scribbled the
reading on the traverse slate.

Then he ran down the ladder to the stern cabin, but the table of
celestial angles was not on its shelf.  In distress he turned to see
that his father had followed him down and was watching him intently.
No word was exchanged, but Hal knew that he was being challenged to
provide the value from memory.  Hal sat at his father's sea-chest,
which served as a desk, and closed his eyes as he reviewed the tables
in his mind's eye.  He must remember yesterday's figures and
extrapolate from them.  He massaged his swollen ear-lobe, and his lips
moved soundlessly.

Suddenly his face lightened, he opened his eyes and scribbled another
number on the slate.  He worked for a nimite longer, translating the
angle of the noon sun into degrees of latitude.  Then he looked up
triumphantly.  "Thirty-four degrees forty-two minutes south
latitude."

His father took the slate from his hand, checked his figures, then
handed it back to him.  He inclined his head slightly in agreement.
"Close enough, if your sun sight was true.  Now what of your
longitude?"

The determination of exact longitude was a puzzle that no man had ever
solved.  There was no timepiece, hourglass or clock that could be
carried aboard a ship and still be sufficiently accurate to keep track
of the earth's majestic revolutions.  Only the traverse board, which
hung beside the compass binnacle, could guide Hal's calculation.  Now
he studied the pegs that the helmsman had placed in the holes about the
rose of the compass each time he had altered his heading during the
previous watch.  Hal added and averaged these values, then plotted them
on the chart in his father's cabin.  It was only a crude approximation
of longitude and, predictably, his father demurred.  "I would have
given it a touch more of east, for with the weed on her bottom and the
water in her bilges she pays off heavily to leeward but mark her so in
the log."

Hal looked up in astonishment.  This was a momentous day indeed.  No
other hand but his father's had ever written in the leather-bound log
that sat beside the Bible on the lid of the sea-chest.

While his father watched, he opened the log and, for a minute, stared
at the pages filled with his father's elegant, flowing script, and the
beautiful drawings of men, ships and landfalls that adorned the
margins.  His father was a gifted artist.  With trepidation Hal dipped
the quill in the gold inkwell that had once belonged to the captain of
the Heerlycke Nacht, one of the Dutch East India Company's galleons
that his father had seized.  He wiped the superfluous drops from the
nib, test they splatter the sacred page.  Then he trapped the tip of
his tongue between his teeth and wrote with infinite care: "One bell in
the afternoon watch, this 3rd day of September in the year of our Lord
Jesus Christ 1667.  Position 34 degrees 42 minutes South, 20 degrees 5
minutes East.  African mainland in sight from the masthead bearing due
North.  "Not daring to add more, and relieved that he had not marred
the page with scratchings; or splutterings, he set aside the quill and
sanded his well formed letters with pride.  He knew his hand was fair
though perhaps not as fair as his father's, he conceded as he compared
them.

Sir Francis took up the pen he had laid aside and leaning over his
shoulder wrote: "This forenoon Ensign Henry Courtney severely wounded
in an unseemly brawl."  Then, beside the entry he swiftly sketched a
telling caricature of Hal with his swollen ear sticking out lopsidedly
and the knot of the stitch like a bow in a maiden's hair.

Hal gagged on his own suppressed laughter, but when he looked up he saw
the twinkle in his father's green eyes.  Sir Francis laid one hand on
the boy's shoulder, which was as close as he would ever come to an
embrace, and squeezed it as he said, "Ned Tyler will be waiting to
instruct you in the lore of rigging and sail trimming.  Do not keep him
waiting."  it was late when Hal made his way forward along the upper
deck, it was still light enough for him to pick his way with ease over
the sleeping bodies of the off-duty watch.  The night sky was filled
with stars, such an array as must dazzle the eyes of any northerner.
This night Hal had no eyes for them.  He was exhausted to the point
where he reeled on his feet.

Aboli had kept a place for him in the bows, under the lee of the
forward cannon where they were out of the wind.  He had spread a
straw-filled pallet on the deck and Hal tumbled gratefully onto it.
There were no quarters set aside for the crew, and the men slept
wherever they could find a space on the open deck.  In these warm
southern nights they all preferred the topsides to the stuffy lower
deck.  They lay in rows, shoulder to shoulder, but the proximity of so
much stinking humanity was natural to Hal, and even their snoring and
mutterings could not keep him long from sleep.  He moved a little
closer to Aboli.  This was how he had slept each night for the last ten
years and there was comfort in the huge figure beside him.

"Your father is a great chief among lesser chieftains, Aboli murmured.
"He is a warrior and he knows the secrets of the sea and the heavens.
The stars are his children."

"I know all this is true," Hal answered, in the same language.

"It was he who bade me take the sword to you this day," Aboli
confessed.

Hal raised himself on one elbow, and stared at the dark figure beside
him.  "My father wanted you to cut me?"  he asked incredulously.

"You are not as other lads.  If your life is hard now, it will be
harder still.  You are chosen.  One day you must take from his
shoulders the great cloak of the red cross.  You must be worthy of
it."

Hal sank back on his pallet, and stared up at the stars.  "What if I do
not want this thing?"  he asked.

"It is yours.  You do not have a choice.  The one Nautonnier Knight
chooses the Knight to follow him.  It has been so for almost four
hundred years.  Your only escape from it is death."

Hal was silent for so long that Aboli thought sleep had overcome him,
but then he whispered, "How do you know these things?"

"From your father."

"Are you also a Knight of our Order?"

Aboli laughed softly.  "My skin is too dark and my gods are alien.

I could never be chosen."

"Aboli, I am afraid."

"All men are afraid.  It is for those of us of the warrior blood to
subdue fear."

"You will never leave me, will you, Aboli?"

"I will stay at your side as long as you need me."  "Then I am not so
afraid."

Hours later Aboli woke him with a hand on his shoulder from a deep and
dreamless sleep.  "Eight bells in the middle watch, Gundwane."  He used
Hal's nickname: in his own language it meant "Bush Rat'.  It was not
meant pejoratively, but was the affectionate name he had bestowed on
the four-year-old who had been placed in his care over a decade
before.

Four o'clock in the morning.  It would be light in an hour.  Hal
scrambled up and, rubbing his eyes, staggered to the stinking bucket in
the heads and eased himself.  Then, fully awake, he hurried down the
heaving deck, avoiding the sleeping figures that cluttered it.

The cook had his fire going in the brick-lined galley and passed Hal a
pewter mug of soup and a hard biscuit.  Hal was ravenous and gulped the
liquid, though it scalded his tongue.  When he crunched the biscuit he
felt the weevils in it pop between his teeth.

As he hurried to the foot of the mainmast he saw the glow of his
father's pipe in the shadows of the poop and smelled a whiff of his
tobacco, rank on the sweet night air.  Hal did not pause but went up
the shrouds noting the change of tack and the new setting of the sails
that had taken place while he slept.

When he reached the masthead and had relieved the lookout there, he
settled into his nest and looked about him.  There was no moon and, but
for the stars, all was dark.  He knew every named star, from the mighty
Sirius to tiny Mintaka in Orion's glittering belt, They were the
ciphers of the navigator, the signposts of the sky, and he had learned
their names with his alphabet.  His eye went, unbidden, to pick out
Regulus in the sign of the Lion.  It was not the brightest star in the
zodiac, but it was his own particular star and he felt a quiet pleasure
at the thought that it sparkled for him alone.  This was the happiest
hour of his long day, the only time he could ever be alone in the
crowded vessel, the only time he could let his mind dance among the
stars and his imagination have full rein.

His every sense seemed heightened.  Even above the whimper of the wind
and the creak of the rigging he could hear his father's voice and
recognize its tone if not the words, as he spoke quietly to the
helmsman on the deck far below.  He could see his father's beaked nose
and the set of his brow in the ruddy glow from the pipe bowl as he drew
in the tobacco smoke.  It seemed to him that his father never slept.

He could smell the iodine of the sea, the fresh odour of kelp and salt.
His nose was so keen, purged by months of sweet sea air, that he could
even whiff the faint odour of the land, the warm, baked smell of Africa
like biscuit hot from the oven.

Then there was another scent, so faint he thought his nostrils had
played a trick on him.  A minute later he caught it again, just a
trace, honey-sweet on the wind.  He did not recognize it and turned his
head back and forth, questing for the next faint perfume, sniffing
eagerly.

Suddenly it came again, so fragrant and heady that he reeled like a
drunkard smelling the brandy pot, and had to stop himself crying aloud
in his excitement.  With an effort he kept his mouth closed and, with
the aroma filling his head, tumbled from the crow's nest, and fled down
the shrouds to the deck below.  He ran on bare feet so silently that
his father started when Hal touched his arm.

"Why have you left your post?"

"I could not hail you from the masthead they are too close.  They might
have heard me also."

"What are you babbling about, boy?"  His father came angrily to his
feet.  "Speak plainly."

"Father, do you not smell it?"  He shook his father's arm urgently.

"What is it?"  His father took the pipe stern from his mouth.  "What is
it that you smell?"

"Spice!"  said Hal.  "The air is full of the perfume of spice."

They moved swiftly down the deck, Ned Tyler, Aboli and Hal, shaking the
off-duty watch awake, cautioning each man to silence as they shoved him
towards his battle stations.  There was no drum to beat to quarters.
Their excitement was infectious.  The waiting was over.  The Dutchman
was out there somewhere close, to windward in the darkness.  They could
all smell his fabulous cargo now.

Sir Francis extinguished the candle in the binnacle so that the ship
showed no lights, then passed the keys of the arms chests to his
boatswains.  They were kept locked until the chase was in sight for the
dread of mutiny was always in the back of every captain's mind.  At
other times only the petty officers carried cutlasses.

In haste the chests were opened and the weapons passed from hand to
hand.  The cutlasses were of good Sheffield steel, with plain wooden
hilts and basket guards.  The pikes had six-foot shafts of English oak
and heavy hexagonal iron heads.  Those of the crew who lacked skill
with the sword chose either these robust spears or the boarding axes
that could lop a man's head from his shoulders at a stroke.

The muskets were racked in the black powder magazine.  They were
brought up, and Hal helped the gunners load them with a handful of lead
pellets on top of a handful of powder.  They were clumsy, inaccurate
weapons, with an effective range of only twenty or thirty yards.  After
the lock was triggered, and the burning match mechanically applied, the
weapon fired in a cloud of smoke, but then had to be reloaded.  This
operation took two or three vital minutes, during which the musketeer
was at the mercy of his foes.

Hal preferred the bow; the famous English longbow that had decimated
the French knights at Agincourt.  He could loose a dozen shafts in the
time it took to reload a musket.  The longbow carried fifty paces with
the accuracy to strike a foe in the centre of the chest and with the
power to spit him to the backbone, even though he wore a breastplate.
He already had two bundles of arrows lashed to the sides of the crow's
nest, ready to hand.

Sir Francis and some of his petty officers strapped on their half
armour, light cavalry cuitasses and steel pot helmets.  Sea salt had
rusted them and they were dented and battered from other actions.

In short order the ship was readied for battle, and the crew armed and
armoured.  However, the gun ports were closed and the demi-culver ins
were not run out.  Most of the men were hustled below by Ned and the
other boatswains, while the rest were ordered to lie flat on the deck
concealed below the bulwarks.  No slow-match was lit the glow and smoke
might alert the chase to her danger.  However, charcoal braziers
smouldered at the foot of each mast, and the wedges were knocked out of
the gun ports with muffled wooden mallets so that the sound of the
blows would not carry.

Aboli pushed his way through the scurrying figures to where Hal stood
at the foot of the mast.  Around his bald head he wore a scarlet cloth
whose tail hung down his back, and thrust into his sash was a cutlass.
Under one arm he carried a rolled bundle of coloured silk.  "From your
father."  He thrust the bundle into Hal's arms.  "You know what to do
with them!"  He gave Hal's pigtail a tug.  "Your father says that you
are to remain at the masthead no matter which way the fight goes.  Do
you hear now?"

He turned and hurried back towards the bows.  Hal grimaced rebelliously
at his broad back, but climbed dutifully into the shrouds.  When he
reached the masthead he scanned the darkness swiftly, but as yet there
was nothing to see.  Even the aroma of spice had evaporated.  He felt a
stab of concern that he might only have imagined it, "It is only that
the chase has come out of our wind," he reassured himself.  "She is
probably abeam of us by now."

He attached the banner Aboli had given him to the signal halyard, ready
to fly it at his father's order.  Then he removed the cover from the
pan of the falconer.  He checked the tension of the string before
setting his longbow into the rack beside the bundles of yard-long
arrows.  Now there was nothing to do but wait.  Below him the ship was
unnaturally quiet, not even a bell to mark the passage of the hours,
only the soft song of the sails and the muted accompaniment of the
rigging.

The day came upon them with the suddenness that in these African seas
he had come to know so well.  Out of the dying night rose a tall bright
tower, shining and translucent as an ice-covered alp.  a great ship
under a mass of gleaming canvas, her masts so tall they seemed to rake
the last pale stars from the sky.

"Sail ho!"  he pitched his voice so that it would carry to the deck
below but not to the strange ship that lay, a full league away, across
the dark waters.  "Fine on the larboard beam!"

His father's voice floated back to him.  "Masthead!  Break out the
colours!"  Hal heaved on the signal halyard, and the silken bundle
soared to the masthead.  There it burst open and the tricolour of the
Dutch Republic streamed out on the southeaster, orange and snowy white
and blue, Within moments the other banners and long pennants burst out
from the head of the mizzen and the foremast, one emblazoned with the
cipher of the VOC, die Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the United
East India Company.  The regalia was authentic, captured only four
months previously from the Heerlycke Nacht.  Even the standard of the
Council of Seventeen was genuine.  There would scarce have been time
for the captain of the galleon to have learned of the capture of his
sister ship and so to question the credentials of this strange
caravel.

The two ships were on converging courses even in darkness Sir Francis
had judged well his interception.  There was no call for him to alter
course and alarm the Dutch captain.  But within minutes it was clear
that the Lady Edwina, despite her worm-riddled hull, was faster through
the water than the galleon.  She must soon begin to overtake the other
ship, which he must avoid at all costs.

Sir Francis watched her through the lens of his telescope, and at once
he saw why the galleon was so slow and ungainly: her mainmast was
jury-rigged, and there was much other evidence of damage to her other
masts and rigging.  He realized that she must have been caught in some
terrible storm in the eastern oceans which would also account for her
belated arrival off her landfall on the Agulhas Cape.  He knew that he
could not alter sail without alarming the Dutch captain, but he had to
pass across her stern.  He had prepared for this.  he signed to the
carpenter, at the rail, who with his mate lifted a huge canvas drogue
and dropped it over the stern.  Like the curb on a head, strong
stallion it bit deep in the water and pulled up the Lady Edwina
sharply.  Again Sir Francis judged the disparate speeds of the two
vessels, and nodded with satisfaction.

Then he looked down his own deck.  The majority of the men were
concealed below decks or lying under the bulwarks where they were
invisible even to the lookouts at the galleon's masthead.  There was no
weapon in sight, all the guns hidden behind their ports.  When Sir
Francis had captured this caravel she had been a Dutch trader,
operating off the west African coast.  In converting her to a
privateer, he had been at pains to preserve her innocent air and
prosaic lines.  Only a dozen or so men were visible on the decks and in
the rigging, which would be normal for a sluggish merchantman.

As he looked up again the banners of the Republic and the Company broke
out at the Dutchman's mastheads.  Only a trifle tardily she was
acknowledging his salute.

"She accepts us," Ned grunted, as he held the Lady Edwina stolidly on
course.  "She likes our sheep's clothing."  "Perhaps!"  Sir Francis
replied.  "And yet she cracks on more sail."  As they watched, the
galleon's royals and topgallants bloomed against the morning sky.

"There!"  he exclaimed a moment later.  "She is altering course,
sheering away from us.  The Dutchman is a cautious fellow."

"Satan's teeth!  just sniff herV Ned whispered, almost to himself, as a
trace of spices scented the air.  "Sweet as a virgin, and twice as
beautiful."

"It's the richest smell you'll ever have in your nostrils."  Sir
Francis spoke loudly enough for the men on the deck below to hear him.
"There lies fifty pounds a head in prize money if you have the notion
to fight for it."  Fifty pounds was ten years of an English workman's
wages, and the men stiffed and growled like hunting hounds on the
leash.

Sir Francis went forward to the poop rail and lifted his chin to call
softly up to the men in the rigging, "Make believe that those
cheese-heads over there are your brothers.  Give them a cheer and a
brave welcome."

The men aloft howled with glee, and waved their bonnets at the tall
ship as the Lady Edwina edged in under her stern.  atinka van de Velde
sat up and frowned at Zelda, her old nurse.  "Why have you woken me so
early?"  she demanded petulantly, and tossed the tumble of golden curls
back from her face.  Even so freshly aroused from sleep, it was rosy
and angelic.  Her eyes were of a startling violet colour, like the
lustrous wings of a tropical butterfly.

"There is another ship near us.  Another Company ship.  The first we
have seen in all these terrible stormy weeks.  I had begun to think
there was not another Christian soul left in all the world," Zelda
whined.  "You are always complaining of boredom.  It might divert you
for a while."

Zelda was pale and wan.  Her cheeks, once fat, smooth and greased with
good living, were sunken.  Her great belly was gone, and hung in folds
of loose skin almost to her knees.  Katinka could see it through the
thin stuff of her nightgown.

She has puked away all her fat and half her flesh, Katinka thought,
with a twinge of disgust.  Zelda had been prostrated by the cyclones
that had assailed the Standvastigheid and battered her mercilessly ever
since they had left the Trincomalee coast.

Katinka threw back the satin bedclothes and swung her long legs over
the edge of the gilded bunk.  This cabin had been especially furnished
and redecorated to accommodate her, a daughter of one of the omnipotent
Zeventien, the seventeen directors of the Company.  The decor was all
gilt and velvet, silken cushions and silver vessels.  A portrait of
Katinka by the fashionable Amsterdam artist Pieter de Hoogh hung on the
bulkhead opposite her bed, a wedding present from her doting father.
The artist had captured her lascivious turn of head.  He must have
scoured his paint pots to reproduce so faithfully the wondrous colour
of her eyes and their expression, which was at once both innocent and
corrupt.

"Do not wake my husband," she cautioned the old woman as she flung a
gold-brocade wrap over her shoulders and tied the jewelled belt around
her hourglass waist.  Zelda's eyelid drooped in conspiratorial
agreement.  At Katinka's insistence the Governor slept in the smaller,
less grand cabin beyond the door that was locked from her side.  Her
excuse was that he snored abominably, and that she was indisposed by
the mal-de-mer.  In truth, caged in her quarters all these weeks, she
was restless and bored, bursting with youthful energy and aflame with
desires that the fat old man could never extinguish.

She took Zelda's hand and stepped out onto the narrow stern gallery.
This was a private balcony, ornately carved with cherubs and angels,
looking out over the ship's wake and hidden from the vulgar eyes of the
crew.

It was a morning dazzling with sunlit magic, and as she filled her
lungs with the salt tang of the sea she felt every nerve and muscle of
her body quiver with the impetus of life.  The wind kicked creamy
feathers from the tops of the long blue swells, and played with her
golden curls.  It ruffled the silk over her breasts and belly with the
caress of a lover's fingers.  She stretched and arched her back
sensuously like a sleek, golden cat.

Then she saw the other ship.  It was much smaller than the galleon but
with pleasing lines.  The pretty flags and pennants that streamed from
her masts contrasted with the pile of her white sails.  She was close
enough for Katinka to make out the figures of the few men that manned
her rigging.  They were waving a greeting, and she could see that some
were young and clad only in short petticoats.

She leaned over the rail and stared across.  Her husband had commanded
that the crew of the galleon observe a strict dress code while she was
aboard, so the figures on this strange ship fascinated her.  She folded
her arms over her bosom and squeezed her breasts together, feeling her
nipples harden and engorge.  She wanted a man.  She burned for a man,
any man, just as long as he was young and hard and raging for her.  A
man like those she had known in Amsterdam before her father had
discovered her taste for strong game and sent her out to the Indies, to
a safe old husband who had a high position in the Company and even
higher prospects.  His choice had been Petrus Jacobus van de Velde who,
now that he was married to Katinka, was assured of the next vacancy on
the Company's board, where he would join the pantheon of the
Zeventien.

"Come inside, Lieveling."  Zelda tugged at her sleeve.  "Those ruffians
over there are staring at you."

Katinka.  shrugged off Zelda's hand, but it was true.  They had
recognized her as a female.  Even at this distance their excitement was
almost palpable.  Their antics had become frenzied and one strapping
figure in the bows took a double handful of his own crotch and thrust
his hips towards her in a rhythmic and obscene gesture.

"Revolting!  Come insideV Zelda insisted.  "The Governor will be
furious if he sees what that animal is doing."

"He should be furious that he cannot perform as nimbly," Katinka
replied angelically.  She pressed her thighs tightly together the
better to savour the sudden moist warmth at their juncture.  The
caravel was much closer now, and she could see that what the seaman was
offering her was bulky enough to overflow his cupped hands.  The tip of
her pink tongue dabbed at her pouting lips.

"Please, mistress."

"In a while," Katinka demurred.  "You were right, Zelda.

This does amuse me.  "She raised one white hand and waved back at the
other ship.  Instantly the men redoubled their efforts to hold her
attention.

"This is so undignified," Zelda moaned.

"But it's fun.  We'll never see those creatures again, and being always
dignified is so dull."  She leaned further out over the rail and let
the front of her gown bulge open.

At that moment there was a heavy pounding on the door to her husband's
cabin.  Without further urging Katinka fled from the gallery, rushed to
her bunk and threw herself upon it.  She pulled the satin bedclothes up
to her chin, before she nodded at Zelda, who lifted the cross bar and
dropped into an ungainly curtsy as the Governor burst in.

He ignored her and, belting his robe around his protruding belly,
waddled to the bunk where Katinka.  lay.  Without his wig his head was
covered by sparse silver bristles.

"My dear, are you well enough to rise?  The captain has sent a message.
He wishes us to dress and stand to.  There is a strange vessel in the
offing, and it is behaving suspiciously."

Katinka stifled a smile as she thought of the suspicious behaviour of
the strange seamen.  Instead she made a brave but pitiful face.  "My
head is bursting, and my stomach, -" "My poor darling."  Petrus van de
Velde, Governor-elect of the Cape of Good Hope, bent over her.  Even on
this cool morning his jowls were basted with sweat, and he reeked of
last evening's dinner, Javanese curried fish, garlic and sour rum.

This time her stomach truly churned, but Katinka.  offered her cheek
dutifully.  "I may have the strength to rise," she whispered, "if the
captain orders it."

Zelda rushed to the bedside and helped her sit up, and then lifted her
to her feet, and with an arm around her waist, led her to the small
Chinese screen in the corner of the cabin.  Seated on the bench
opposite, her husband was afforded only vague glimpses of shining
white skin from behind the painted silk panels, even though he craned
his head to see more.

"How much longer must this terrible journey last?"  Katinka
complained.

"The captain assures me that, with this wind holding fair, we should
drop anchor in Table Bay within ten days."

"The Lord give me strength to survive that long."

"He has invited us to dine today with him and his officers," replied
the Governor.  "It is a pity, but I will send a message that you are
indisposed."

Katinka's head and shoulders popped up over the screen.  "You will do
no such thing!"  she snapped.  Her breasts, round and white and smooth,
quivered with agitation.

One of the officers interested her more than a little.  He was Colonel
Cornelius Schreuder, who, like her own husband, was en route to take up
an appointment at the Cape of Good Hope.  He had been appointed
military commander of the settlement of which Pettus van de Velde would
be Governor.  He wore pointed moustaches and a fashionable van Dyck
beard, and bowed to her most graciously each time she went on deck.
His legs were well turned, and his dark eyes were eagle bright and gave
her goose pimples when he looked at her.  She read in them more than
just respect for her position, and he had responded most gratifyingly
to the sly appraisal she had given him from under her long eyelashes.

When they reached the Cape, he would be her husband's subordinate.

Hers also to command and she was sure that he could relieve the
monotony of exile in the forsaken settlement at the end of the world
that was to be her home for the next three years.

"I mean," she changed her tone swiftly, "it would be churlish of us to
decline the captain's hospitality, would it not?"

"But your health is more important," he protested.

"I will find the strength."  Zelda slipped petticoats over her head,
one after another, five in all, each fluttering with ribbons.

Katinka came from behind the screen and raised her arms.  Zelda lowered
the blue silk dress over them and drew it down over the petticoats.
Then she knelt and carefully tucked up the skirts on one side to reveal
the petticoats beneath, and the slim ankles clad in white silk
stockings.  It was the very latest fashion.  The Governor watched her,
entranced.  If only the other parts of your body were as big and busy
as your eyeballs, Katinka thought derisively, as she turned to the long
mirror and pirouetted before it.

Then she screamed wildly and clutched her bosom as, from the deck
directly above them, there came the sudden deafening roar of gunfire.
The Governor screamed as shrilly and flung himself from the bench onto
the Oriental carpets that covered the deck.

"Through the lens of the telescope Sir Courtney read the name off her
gilded transom.  "The Standvastigheid.  the Resolution."  He lowered
the glass and grunted, "A name which we will soon put to the test!"

As he spoke a long bright plume of smoke spurted from the ship's upper
deck, and a few seconds later the boom of the cannon carried across the
wind.  Half a cable's length ahead of their bows, the heavy ball
plunged into the sea, making a tall white fountain.  They could hear
drums beating urgently in the other ship, and the gun ports in her
lower decks swung open.  Long barrels prodded out.

"I marvel that he waited so long to give us a warning shot," Sir
Francis drawled.  He closed the telescope, and looked up at the sails.
"Put up your helm, Master Ned, and lay us under his stern."  The
display of false colours had won them enough time to duck in under the
menace of the galleon's crushing broadside.

Sir Francis turned to the carpenter, who stood ready at the stern rail
with a boarding axe in his hands.  "Cut her loose!"  he ordered.

The man raised the axe above his head and swung it down.  With a crunch
the blade sliced into the timber of the stern rail, the drogue line
parted with a whiplash crack and, free of her restraint, the Lady
Edwina bounded forward, then heeled as Ned put up the helm.

Sir Francis's manservant, Oliver, came running with the red-quartered
cloak and plumed cavalier hat.  Sir Francis donned them swiftly and
bellowed at the masthead, "Down with the colours of the Republic and
let's see those of England!"  The crew cheered wildly as the Union flag
streamed out on the wind.

They came boiling up from below decks, like ants from a broken nest,
and lined the bulwarks, roaring defiance at the huge vessel that
towered over them.  The Dutchman's decks and rigging swarmed with
frantic activity.

The cannon in the galleon's ports were training around, but few could
cover the caravel as she came flying down on the wind, screened by the
Dutchman's own high counter.

A ragged broadside thundered out across the narrowing gap but most of
the shot fell wide by hundreds of yards or howled harmlessly overhead.
Hal ducked as the blast of a passing shot lifted the cap from his head
and sent it sailing away on the wind.  A neat round hole had appeared
miraculously in the sail six feet above him.  He flicked his long hair
out of his face, and peered down at the galleon.

The small company of Dutch officers on the quarterdeck were in
disarray.  Some were in shirtsleeves, and one was stuffing his
night-shirt into his breeches as he came up the companion-ladder.

One officer caught his eye in the throng: a tall man in a steel helmet
with a van Dyck beard was rallying a company of musketeers on the
foredeck.  He wore the gold-embroidered sash of a colonel over his
shoulder, and from the way he gave his orders and the alacrity with
which his men responded seemed a man to watch, one who might prove a
dangerous foe.

Now at his bidding the men ran aft, each carrying a murderer, one of
the small guns especially used for repelling boarders.  There were
slots in the galleon's stern rail into which the iron pin of the
murderer would fit, allowing the deadly little weapon to be traversed
and aimed at the decks of an enemy ship as it came alongside.  When
they had boarded the Heerlycke Nacht Hal had seen the execution the
murderer could wreak at close range.  It was more of a threat than the
rest of the galleon's battery.

He swivelled the falconet, and blew on the slow-match in his hand.

To reach the stern the file of Dutch musketeers must climb the ladder
from the quarterdeck to the poop.  He aimed at the head of the ladder
as the gap between the two ships closed swiftly; The Dutch colonel was
first up the ladder, sword in hand, his gilded helmet sparkling bravely
in the sunlight.  Hal let him cross the deck at a run, and waited for
his men to follow him up.

The first musketeer tripped at the head of the ladder and sprawled on
the deck, dropping his murderer as he fell.  Those following were
bunched up behind him, unable to pass for the moment that it took him
to recover and regain his feet.  Hal peered over the crude sights of
the falconet at the little knot of men.  He pressed the burning tip of
the match to the pan, and held his aim deliberately as the powder
flared.  The falconet jumped and bellowed and, as the smoke cleared he
saw that five of the musketeers were down, three torn to shreds by the
blast, the others screaming and splashing their blood on the white
deck.

Hal felt breathless with shock as he looked down at the carnage.  He
had never before killed a man, and his stomach heaved with sudden
nausea.  This was not the same as shattering a water cask.  For a
moment he thought he might vomit.

The Dutch colonel at the stern rail looked up at him.  He lifted his
sword and pointed it at Hal's face.  He shouted something up at Hal,
but the wind and the continuous roll of gunfire obliterated his words.
But Hal knew that he had made a mortal enemy.

This knowledge steadied him.  There was no time to reload the falconer,
it had done its work.  He knew that that single shot had saved the
lives of many of his own men.  He had caught the Dutch musketeers
before they could set up their murderers to scythe down the boarders.
He knew he should be proud, but he was not.  He was afraid of the Dutch
colonel.

Hal reached for the longbow.  He had to stand tall to draw it.  He
aimed his first arrow down at the colonel.  He drew to full reach, but
the Dutchman was no longer looking at him: he was commanding the
survivors of his company to their positions at the galleon's stern
rail.

His back was turned to Hal.

Hal held off a fraction, allowing for the wind and the ship's movement.
He loosed the arrow and watched it flash away, curling as the wind
caught it.  For a moment he thought it would find its mark in the
colonel's broad back, but the wind thwarted it.  It missed by a hand's
breadth and thudded into the deck timbers where it stood quivering. The
Dutchman glanced up at him, scorn curling his spiked moustaches. He
made no attempt to seek cover, but turned back to his men.

Hal reached frantically for another arrow, but at that instant the two
ships came together, and he was almost catapulted over the rim of the
crow's nest.

There was a grinding, crackling uproar, timbers burst, and the windows
in the galleon's stern galleries shattered at the collision.  Hal
looked down and saw Aboli in the bows, a black colossus as he swung a
boarding grapnel around his head in long swooping revolutions then
hurled it upwards, the line snaking out behind.

The iron hook skidded across the poop deck, but when Aboli jerked it
back it lodged firmly in the galleon's stern rail.  One of the Dutch
crew ran across and lifted an axe to cut it free.  Hal drew the fl
etchings of another arrow to his lips and loosed.  This time his
judgement of the windage was perfect and the arrowhead buried itself in
the man's throat.  He dropped the axe and clutched at the shaft as he
staggered backwards and collapsed.

Aboli had seized another grapnel and sent that up onto the galleon's
stern.  It was followed by a score of others, from the other
boatswains.  In moments the two vessels were bound to each other by a
spider's web of manila lines, too numerous for the galleon's defenders
to sever though they scampered along the gunwale with hatchets and
cutlasses.

The Lady Edwina had not fired her culver ins  Sir Francis had held his
broadside for the time when it would be most needed.  The shot could do
little damage to the galleon's massive planking, and it was far from
his plans to mortally injure the prize.  But now, with the two ships
locked together, the moment had come.

"Gunners!"  Sir Francis brandished his sword over his head to attract
their attention.  They stood over their pieces, smoking slow-match in
hand, watching him.  "Now!"  he roared, and slashed his blade
downwards.

The line of culver ins thundered in a single hellish chorus.  Their
muzzles were pressed hard against the galleon's stern, and the carved,
gilded woodwork disintegrated in a cloud of smoke, flying white
splinters and shards of stained glass from the windows.

It was the signal.  No command could be heard in the uproar, no gesture
seen in the dense fog that billowed over the locked vessels, but a
wild chorus of warlike yells rose from the smoke and the Lady Edwina's
crew poured up into the galleon.

They boarded in a pack through the stern gallery, like ferrets into a
rabbit warren, climbing with the nimbleness of apes and swarming over
the gunwale, screened from the Dutch gunners by the rolling cloud of
smoke.  Others ran out along the Lady Edwina's yards and dropped onto
the galleon's decks.  " Franky and St.  George!"  Their war-cries came
up to Hal at the masthead.  He saw only three or four shot down by the
murderers at the stern before the Dutch musketeers themselves were
hacked down and overwhelmed.  The men who followed climbed unopposed to
the galleon's poop.  He saw his father go across, moving with the speed
and agility of a much younger man.

Aboli stooped to boost him over the galleon's rail and the two fell in
side by side, the tall Negro with the scarlet turban and the cavalier
in his plumed Hat, cloak swirling around the battered steel of his
cuirass.

"Franky and St.  George!"  the men howled, as they saw their captain in
the thick of the fight, and followed him, sweeping the poop deck with
ringing, slashing steel.

The Dutch colonel tried to rally his few remaining men, but they were
beaten back remorselessly and sent tumbling down the ladders to the
quarterdeck.  Aboli and Sir Francis went down after them, their men
clamouring behind them like a pack of hounds with the scent of fox in
their nostrils.

Here they were faced with sterner opposition.  The galleon's captain
had formed up his men on the deck below the mainmast, and now their
musketeers fired a close-range volley and charged the Lady Edwina's men
with bared steel.  The galleon's decks were smothered with a struggling
mass of fighting men.

Although Hal had reloaded the falconer, there was no target for him.
Friend and foe were so intermingled that he could only watch helplessly
as the fight surged back and forth across the open deck below him.

Within minutes it was apparent that the crew of the Lady Edwina were
heavily outnumbered.  There were no reserves Sir Francis had left no
one but Hal aboard the caravel.  He had committed every last man,
gambling all on surprise and this first wild charge.  Twenty-four of
his men were leagues away across the water, manning the two pinnaces,
and could take no part.  They were sorely needed now, but when Hal
looked for the tiny-scout vessels he saw that they were still miles
out.  Both had their gaff main sails set, but were making only snail's
progress against the southeaster and the big curling swells.  The fight
would be decided before they could reach the two embattled ships and
intervene.

He looked back at the deck of the galleon and to his consternation,
realized that the fight had swung against them.  His father and Aboli
were being driven back towards the stern.  The Dutch colonel was at the
head of the counter-attack, roaring like a wounded bull and inspiring
his men by his example.

From the back ranks of the boarding-party broke a small group of the
Lady Edwina's men, who had been hanging back from the fight.  They were
led by a weasel of a man, Sam Bowles, a forecastle lawyer, whose
greatest talent lay in his ready tongue, his skill at arguing the
division of spoils and in brewing dissension and discontent among his
fellows.

Sam Bowles darted up into the galleon's stern and dropped over the rail
to the Lady Edwina's deck, followed by four others.

The interlocked ships had swung round ponderously before the wind, so
that now the Lady Edwina was straining at the grappling lines that held
them together.  In panic and terror, the five deserters fell with axe
and cutlass upon the lines.  Each parted with a snap that carried
clearly to Hal at the masthead.

"Avast that!  "he screamed down, but not one man raised his head from
his treacherous work.

"Father!"  Hal shrieked towards the deck of the other ship.  "You'll be
stranded!  Come back!  Come back!"

His voice could not carry against the wind or the noise of battle.

His father was fighting three Dutch seamen, all his attention locked
onto them.  Hal saw him take a cut on his blade, and then riposte with
a gleam of steel.  One of his opponents staggered back, clutching at
his arm, his sleeve suddenly sodden red.

At that moment the last grappling line parted with a crack, and the
Lady Eduna was free.  Her bows swung clear swiftly, her sails filled
and she bore away, leaving the galleon wallowing, her flapping sails
taken all aback, making ungainly sternway.

Hal launched himself down the shrouds, his palms scalded by the speed
of the rope hissing through them.  He hit the deck so hard that his
teeth cracked together in his jaws and he rolled across the planks.

In an instant he was on his feet, and looking desperately around him.
The galleon was already a cable's length away across the blue swell,
the sounds of the fighting growing faint on the wind.  Then he looked
to his own stern and saw Sam Bowles scurrying to take the helm.

A fallen seaman was lying in the scupper, shot down by a Dutch
murderer.  His musket lay beside him, still unfired, the match
spluttering and smoking in the lock.  Hal snatched it up and raced back
along the deck to head off Sam Bowles.

He reached the whipstall a dozen paces before the other man and rounded
on him, thrusting the gun's gaping muzzle into his belly.  "Back, you
craven swine!  Or I'll blow your traitor's guts over the deck."

Sam recoiled, and the other four seamen backed up behind him, staring
at Hal with faces still pale and terrified from their flight.

"You can't leave your shipmates.  We're going back!"  Hal screamed, his
eyes blazing green with wild rage and fear for his father and Aboli. He
waved the musket at them, the smoke from the match swirling around his
head.  His forefinger was hooked around the trigger.  Looking into
those eyes, the deserters could not doubt his resolve and retreated
down the deck.

Hal seized the whipstall and held it over.  The ship trembled under his
feet as she came under his command.  He looked back at the galleon, and
his spirits quailed.  He knew that he could never drive the Lady Edwina
back against the wind with this set of sail: they were flying away from
where his father and Aboli were fighting for their lives.  At the same
moment Bowles and his gang realized his predicament.  "Nobody ain't
going back, and there's naught you can do about it, young Henry."  Sam
cackled triumphantly.  "You'll have to get her on the other tack, to
beat back to your daddy, and there's none of us will handle the sheets
for you.  Is there, lads?  We have you strapped!"

Hal looked about him hopelessly.  Then, suddenly, his jaw clenched with
resolution.  Sam saw the change in him and turned to follow his gaze.
His own expression collapsed in consternation as he saw the pinnace
only half a league ahead, crowded with armed sailors.

"Have at him, lads!"  he exhorted his companions.  "He has but one shot
in the musket, and then he's ours!"

"One shot and my sword!  " Hal roared, and tapped the hilt of the
cutlass on his hip.  "God's teeth, but I'll take half of you with me
and glory in it."

"All together!"  Sam squealed.  "He'll never get the blade out of its
sheath."

"Yes!  Yes!"  Hal shouted.  "Come!  Please, I beg you for the chance to
have a look at your cowardly entrails."

They had all watched this young wildcat at practice, had seen him
fight Aboli, and none wanted to be at the front of the charge.  They
growled and shuffled, fingered their cutlasses and looked away.

"Come on, Sam Bowles!"  Hal challenged.  "You were quick enough from
the Dutchman's deck.  Let's see how quick you are to come at me now."

Sam steeled himself and then, grimly and purposefully, started forward,
but when Hal poked the muzzle of the musket an inch forward, aiming at
his belly, he pulled back hurriedly and tried to push one of his gang
forward.

"Have at him, lad!"  Sam croaked.  Hal changed his aim to the second
man's face, but he broke out of Sam's grip and ducked behind his
neighbour.

The pinnace was close ahead now they could hear the eager shouts of the
seamen in her.  Sam's expression was desperate.  Suddenly he fled. Like
a scared rabbit he shot down the ladder to the lower deck, and in an
instant the others followed him in a panic-stricken mob.

Hal dropped the musket to the deck, and used both hands on the
whipstall.  He gazed forward over the plunging bows, judging his moment
carefully, then threw his weight against the lever and spun the ship's
head up into the wind.

She lay there hove to.  The pinnace was nearby and Hal could see Big
Daniel Fisher in the bows, one of the Lady Edwina's best boatswains.
Big Daniel seized his opportunity, and shot the small boat alongside.
His sailors latched onto the trailing grappling lines that Sam and his
gang had cut, and came swarming up onto the caravel's deck.

"Daniel!"  Hal shouted at him.  "I'm going to wear the ship around. Get
ready to train her yards!  We're going back into the fight!"

Big Daniel flashed him a grin, his teeth jagged and broken as a
shark's, and led his men to the yard braces.  Twelve men, fresh and
eager, Hal exulted, as he prepared for the dangerous manoeuvre of
bringing the wind across the ship's stern rather than over her bows. If
he misjudged it, he would dismast her, but if he succeeded in bringing
her round, stern first to the wind, he would save several crucial
minutes in getting back to the embattled galleon.

Hal put the whipstall hard alee, but as she struggled wildly to feel
the wind come across her stern, and threatened to gybe with all
standing, Daniel paid off the yard braces to take the strain.  The
sails filled like thunder, and suddenly she was on the other tack,
clawing up into the wind, tearing back to join the fight.

Daniel hooted and lifted his cap, and they all cheered him, for it had
been courageously and skilfully done.  Hal hardly glanced at the
others, but concentrated on holding the Lady Edwina close hauled,
heading back for the drifting Dutchman.  The fight must still be raging
aboard her, for he could hear the faint shouts and the occasional pop
of a musket.  Then there was a flash of white off to leeward, and he
saw the gaff sail of the second pinnace ahead the crew waving wildly to
gain his attention.  Another dozen fighting men to join the muster, he
thought.  Was it worth the time to pick them up?  Another twelve sharp
cutlasses?  He let the Lady Edwina drop off a point, to head straight
for the tiny vessel.

Daniel had a line ready to heave across and, within seconds, the second
pinnace had disgorged her men and was on tow behind the Lady Edwina.

"Daniel!"  Hal called him.  "Keep those men quiet!  No sense in warning
the cheese-heads we're coming."

"Right, Master Hal.  We'll give "em a little surprise."  "Batten down
the hatches on the lower decks!  We have a cargo of cowards and
traitors hiding in our holds.  Keep "em.  locked down there until Sir
Francis can deal with them."

Silently the Lady Edwina steered in under the galleon's tumble home
Perhaps the Dutchmen were too busy to see her coming in under
shortened sail for not a single head peered down from the rail above as
the two hulls came together with a jarring grinding impact.  Daniel and
his crew -hurled grappling irons over the galleon's rail, and
immediately stormed up them, hand over hand.

Hal took only a moment to lash the whipstall hard over, then raced
across the deck and seized one of the straining lines.  Close on Big
Daniel's heels, he climbed swiftly and paused as he reached the
galleon's rail.  With one hand on the line and both feet planted firmly
on the galleon's timbers, he drew his cutlass and clamped the blade
between his teeth.  Then he swung himself up and, only a second behind
Daniel, dropped over the rail.

He found himself in the front rank of the fresh boarding party.  With
Daniel beside him, and the sword in his right fist he took a moment to
glance around the deck.  The fight was almost over.  They had arrived
with only seconds to spare for his father's men were scattered in tiny
clusters across the deck, surrounded by its crew and fighting for their
lives.  Half their number were down, a few obviously dead.  A head,
hacked from its torso, leered up at Hal from the scupper where it
rolled back and forth in a puddle of its own blood.  With a shudder of
horror, Hal recognized the Lady Edwina's cook.

Others were wounded, and writhed, rolled and groaned on the deck.  The
planks were slick and slippery with their blood.  Still others sat
exhausted, disarmed and dispirited, their weapons thrown aside, their
hands clasped over their heads, yielding to the enemy.

A few were still fighting.  Sir Francis and Aboli stood at bay below
the mainmast, surrounded by howling Dutchmen, hacking and stabbing.
Apart from a gash on his left arm, his father seemed unhurt perhaps the
steel cuirass had saved him from serious injury and he fought with all
his usual fire.  Beside him, Aboli was huge and indestructible, roaring
a war-cry in his own tongue when he saw Hal's head pop over the rail.

Without a thought but to go to their aid, Hal started forward.  "For
Franky and St.  George!"  he screamed at the top of his lungs, and Big
Daniel took up the cry, running at his left hand.  The men from the
pinnaces were after them, shrieking like a horde of raving madmen
straight out of Bedlam.

The Dutch crew were themselves almost spent, a score were down, and of
those still fighting many were wounded.  They looked over their
shoulders at this latest phalanx of bloodthirsty Englishmen rushing
upon them.  The surprise was complete.  Shock and dismay was on every
tired and sweat-lathered face.  Most flung down their weapons and, like
any defeated crew, rushed to hide below decks.

A few of the stouter souls swung about to face the charge, those around
the mast led by the Dutch colonel.  But the yells of Hal's
boarding-party had rallied their exhausted and bleeding shipmates, who
sprang forward with renewed resolve to join the" attack.  The Dutchmen
were surrounded.

Even in the confusion and turmoil Colonel Schreuder recognized Hal, and
whirled to confront him, aiming a cut, backhanded, at his head.  His
moustaches bristled like a lion's whiskers, and the blade hummed in his
hand.  He was miraculously unhurt and seemed as strong and fresh as any
of the men that Hal led against him.  Hal turned the blow with a twist
of his wrist and went for the counter-stroke.

In order to meet Hal's charge the colonel had turned his back on Aboli,
a foolhardy move.  As he trapped Hal's thrust and shifted his feet to
lunge, Aboli rushed at him from behind.  For a moment Hal thought he
would run him through the spine, but he should have guessed better.
Aboli knew the value of ransom as well as any man aboard: a dead enemy
officer was merely so much rotting meat to throw overboard to the
sharks that followed in their wake but a captive was worth good gold
guilders.

Aboli reversed his grip, and brought the steel basket of the cutlass
hilt cracking into the back of the colonel's skull.  The Dutchman's
eyes flew wide open with shock, then his legs buckled under him and he
toppled face down on the deck.

As the colonel went down, the last resistance of the galleon's crew
collapsed with him.  They threw down their weapons, and those of the
Lady Edwina's crew who had surrendered leapt to their feet, wounds and
exhaustion forgotten.  They snatched up the discarded weapons and
turned them on the beaten Dutchmen, herding them forward, forcing them
to squat in ranks with their hands clasped behind their heads,
dishevelled and forlorn.

Aboli seized Hal in a bear-hug.  "When you and Sam Bowles set sail, I
thought it was the last we would see of you," he panted.

Sir Francis came striding towards his son, thrusting his way through
the milling, cheering pack of his seamen.  "You deserted your post at
the masthead!"  He scowled at Hal as he bound a strip of cloth around
the nick in his upper arm and knotted it with his teeth.

"Father," Hal stammered, "I thought, -" "And for once you thought
wisely!"  Sir Francis's dark expression cracked and his green eyes
sparkled.  "We'll make a warrior of you yet, if you remember to keep
your point up on the riposte.  This great cheese-head," he prodded the
fallen colonel with his toe, "was about to skewer you, until Aboli
tapped his noggin."  Sir Francis slipped his sword back into its
scabbard.  "The ship is not yet secure.  The lower decks and holds are
crawling with them.  We'll have to drive them out.  Stay close to Aboli
and me!"  "Father, you're hurt, "Hal protested.

"And perhaps I would have been more sorely wounded had you come back to
us even a minute later than you did."

"Let me see to your wound."

"I know the tricks Aboli has taught you would you piss on your own
father?"  He laughed, and clapped Hal on the shoulder.  "Perhaps I'll
give you that pleasure a little later."  He turned and bellowed across
the deck, "Big Daniel, take your men below and winkle out those
cheese-heads who are hiding there.  Master John, put a guard on the
cargo hatches.  See to it there is no looting.  Fair shares for all!
Master Ned, take the helm and get this ship on the wind before she
flogs her canvas to rags."

Then he roared at the others, "I'm proud of you, you rascals!  A good
day's work.  You'll each go home with fifty gold guineas in your
pocket.  But the Plymouth lassies will never love you as well I do!"

They cheered him, hysterical with the release from desperate action and
the fear of defeat and death.

"Come on!"  Sir Francis nodded to Aboli and started for the ladder that
led down into the officers" and passengers" quarters in the stern.

Hal followed at a run as they crossed the deck, and Aboli grunted over
his shoulder, "Be on your mettle.  There are those below who would be
happy to stick a dirk between your ribs."

Hal knew where his father was going, and what would be his first
concern.  He wanted the Dutch captain's charts, log and sailing
directions.  They were more valuable to him than all the fragrant
spices and precious metals and bright jewels the galleon might be
carrying.  With those in his hands he would have the key to every Dutch
harbour and fort in the Indies.  He would read the sailing orders of
the spice convoys and the manifest of their cargoes.  To him they were
worth ten thousand pounds in gold.

Sir Francis stormed down the ladder and tried the first door at the
bottom.  It was locked from within.  He stepped back and charged.  At
his flying kick, the door flew open and crashed back on its hinges.

The galleon's captain was crouched over his desk, his cropped pate wig
less and his clothing sweat-soaked.  He looked up in dismay, blood
dripping from a cut on his cheek onto his silken shirt, its wide
fashionable sleeves slashed with green.

At the sight of Sir Francis, he froze in the act of stuffing the ship's
books into a weighted canvas bag, then snatched it up and rushed to the
stern windows.  The casements and glass had been shot away by the Lady
Edwina's culver ins and they gaped open, the sea breaking and swirling
under her counter.  The Dutch captain lifted the bag to hurl it through
the opening but Sir Francis seized his raised arm and flung him
backwards onto his bunk.  Aboli grabbed the bag, and Sir Francis made a
courteous little bow.  "You speak English?"he demanded.

"No English," the captain snarled back, and Sir Francis changed
smoothly into Dutch.  As a Nautonnier Knight of the Order he spoke most
of the languages of the great seafaring nations, French, Spanish
andpo-rtuguese, as well as Dutch.  "You are my prisoner, Mijnheer.
What is your name?"

Timberger, captain of the first class, in the service of the VOC.  And
you, Mijnheer, are a corsair," the captain retorted.

"You are mistaken, sir!  I sail under Letters of Marque from His
Majesty King Charles the second.  Your ship is now a prize of war."

"You flew false colours," the Dutchman accused.

Sir Francis smiled bleakly.  "A legitimate ruse of war."  He made a
dismissive gesture and went on, "You are a brave man, Mijnheer, but the
fight is over now.  As soon as you give me your word, you will be
treated as my honoured guest.  The day your ransom is paid, you will go
free."

The captain wiped the blood and sweat from his face with his silken
sleeve, and an expression of resignation dulled his features.  He stood
and handed his sword hilt first to Sir Francis.

"You have my word.  I will not attempt to escape."

"Nor encourage your men to resistance?"  Sir Francis prompted him.

The captain nodded glumly.  "I agree."

"I will need your cabin, Mijnheer, but I will find you comfortable
quarters elsewhere."  Sir Francis turned his attention eagerly to the
canvas bag and dumped its contents on the desk.

Hal knew that, from now on, his father would be absorbed in his
reading, and he glanced at Aboli on guard in the doorway.  The Negro
nodded permission at him, and Hal slipped out of the cabin.  His father
did not see him go.

Cutlass in hand, he moved cautiously down the narrow corridor.  He
could hear the shouts and clatter from the other decks as the crew of
the Lady Edwina cleared out the defeated Dutch seamen and herded them
up onto the open deck.  Down here it was quiet and deserted.  The first
door he tried was locked.  He hesitated then followed his father's
earlier example.  The door resisted his first onslaught, but he backed
off and charged again.  This time it burst open and he went flying
through into the cabin beyond, off balance and skidding on the
magnificent Oriental rugs that covered the deck.  He sprawled on the
huge bed that seemed to fill half the cabin.

As he sat up and gazed at the splendour that surrounded him, he was
aware of an aroma more heady than any spice he had ever smelt.  The
boudoir odour of a pampered woman, not merely the precious oils of
flowers, procured by the perfumer's art, but blended with these the
more subtle scents of skin and hair and a healthy young female body.
It was so exquisite, so moving that when he stood his legs felt
strangely weak under him, and he snuffed it up rapturously.  It was the
most delicious smell that had ever set his nostrils a-quiver.

Sword in hand he gazed around the cabin, only vaguely aware of the
rich tapestries and silver vessels filled with sweetmeats, dried fruits
and potpourri.  The dressing table against the port bulkhead was
covered with an array of cut glass cosmetic and perfume bottles with
stoppers of chased silver.  He moved across to it.  Laid out beside the
bottles was a set of silver-backed brushes and a tortoiseshell comb.
Trapped between the teeth of the comb was a single strand of hair, long
as his arm, fine as a silk thread.

Hal lifted the comb to his face as though it were a holy relic.  There
was that entrancing odour again, that giddy woman's smell.  He wound
the hair about his finger and freed it from the teeth of the comb, then
reverently tucked it into the pocket of his stained and sweat-stinking
shirt.

At that moment there came a soft but heartbreaking sob from behind the
gaudy Chinese screen across one end of the cabin.

"Who's there?"  Hal challenged, cutlass poised.  "Come out or I'll
thrust home."

There was another sob, more poignant than the last.  "By all the
saints, I mean it!"  Hal stalked towards the screen.

He slashed at the screen, slicing through one of the painted panels. At
the force of the blow it toppled and crashed to the deck.  There was a
terrified shriek, and Hal stood gaping at the wondrous creature who
knelt, cowering, in the corner of the cabin.

Her face was buried in her hands, but the mass of shining hair that
tumbled to the deck glowed like freshly minted gold escudos, and the
skirts spread around were the blue of a swallow's wings.

"Please, madam!"  Hal whispered.  "I mean you no ill.  Please do not
cry."  His words had no effect.  Clearly they were not understood and,
inspired by the moment, Hal switched into Latin.  "You need not fear-
You are safe.  I will not harm you.

The shining head lifted.  She had understood.  He looked into her face,
and it was as though he had received a charge of grape shot in the
centre of his chest.  The pain was so intense that he gasped aloud.

He had never dreamed that such beauty could exist.

"Mercy!"  she whispered pitifully in Latin.  "Please do not harm me."
Her eyes were liquid and brimming, but her tears served only to enhance
their magnitude and intensify their iridescent violet.  Her cheeks were
blanched to the translucent lustre of alabaster, and the tears upon
them gleamed like tiny seed pearls.

"You are beautiful," Hal said, still in Latin.  His voice sounded like
that of a victim on the rack, breathless and agonized.  He was tortured
by emotions that he had never dreamed existed.  He wanted to protect
and cherish this woman, to keep her for ever for himself, to love and
worship her.  All the words of chivalry, which, until he looked upon
her, he had read and mouthed but never truly understood, rushed to his
tongue demanding utterance, but he could only stand and stare.

Then he was distracted by another soft sound from behind him.  He spun
round, cutlass at the ready.  From under the satin sheets that trailed
over the edge of the huge bed crawled a porcine figure.  The back and
belly were so well larded as to wobble with every movement the man
made.  Rolls of fat swaddled the back of his neck and hung down his
pendulous jowls.  "Yield yourself!"  Hal bellowed, and prodded him with
the point of the blade.  The Governor screamed shrilly and collapsed on
the deck.  He wriggled like a puppy.

"Please do not kill me.  I am a rich man," he sobbed, also in Latin. "I
will pay any ransom."

"Get up!"  Hal prodded him again, but Petrus van de Velde had only
enough strength and courage to reach his knees.  He knelt there,
blubbering.

"Who are you?"

"I am the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, and this lady is my
wife."

These were the most terrible words Hal had ever heard spoken.  He
stared at the man aghast.  The wondrous lady he already loved with his
very life was married and to this grotesque burlesque of a man who
knelt before him.

"My father-in-law is a director of the Company, one of the richest and
most powerful merchants in Amsterdam.  He will pay he will pay
anything.  Please do not kill us."

The words made little sense to Hal.  His heart was breaking.  Within
moments he had gone from wild elation to the depths of the human
spirit, from soaring love to plunging despair.

But the Governor's words meant more to Sir Francis Courtney, who stood
now in the entrance to the cabin with Aboli at his back.

"Please calm yourself, Governor.  You and your wife are in safe hands.
I will make the arrangements for your ransom with all despatch."  He
swept off his plumed cavalier Hat, and bent his knee towards Katinka.
Even he was not entirely proof against her beauty.  "May I introduce
myself, madam?  Captain Francis Courtney, at your command.  Please take
a while to compose yourself.  At four bells that is in an hour's time I
would be obliged if you would join me on the quarterdeck.  I intend to
hold a muster of the ship's company."  the ships were under sail, the
little caravel under studding-sails and top sails only, the great
galleon with her mainsail set.  They sailed in close company on a
north-easterly heading, away from the Cape and on a closing course with
the eastern reaches of the African mainland.  Sir Francis looked down
paternally upon his crew in the galleon's waist.

"I promised you fifty guineas the man as your prize," he said, and they
cheered him wildly.  Some were stiff and crippled with their wounds.
Five were laid on pallets against the rail, too weak from loss of blood
to stand but determined not to miss a word of this ceremony.  The dead
were already stitched in their canvas shrouds, each with a Dutch
cannonball at his feet, and laid out in the bows.  Sixteen Englishmen
and forty-two Dutch, comrades in the truce of death.  None of the
living now gave them a thought.

Sir Francis held up one hand.  They fell silent and crowded forward so
as not to miss his next words.

"I lied to you," he told them.  There was a moment of stunned disbelief
and then they groaned and muttered darkly.  "There is not a man among
you .. ."  he paused for effect "..  . but is the richer by two hundred
pounds for this day's work!"

The silence persisted as they stared incredulously at him, and then
they went mad with joy.  They capered and howled, and whirled each
other around in a delirious jig.  Even the wounded sat up and crowed.

Sir Francis smiled down on them benignly for a while as he let them
give vent to their joy.  Then he waved a sheaf of manuscript pages over
his head and they fell silent again.  "This is the extract I have made
of the ship's manifest!"  "Read it!"  they pleaded.

The recital went on for almost half an hour, for they cheered each item
of the bill of lading that he translated from the Dutch as he read
aloud.  Cochineal and pepper, vanilla and saffron, cloves and cardamom
with a total weight of forty-two tons.  The crew knew that, weight for
weight and pound for pound, those spices were as precious as bars of
silver.  They were hoarse with shouting, and Sir Francis held up his
hand again.  "Do I weary you with this endless list?  Have you had
enough?"

"No!"  they roared.  "Read on!"

"Well, then, there are a few sticks of timber in her holds.

Balu and teak and other strange wood that has never been seen north of
the equator.  Over three hundred tons."  They feasted on his words with
shining eyes.  "There is still more, but I see that I weary you.  You
want no more?"

"Read it to us!"  they pleaded.

"Finest Chinese blue and white ceramic ware, and silk in bolts.  That
will please the ladies!"  They bellowed like a herd of bull elephants
in musth at the mention of women.  When they reached the next port,
with two hundred pounds in each purse, they could have as many women,
of whatever quality and comeliness their fancies ordered.

"There is also gold and silver, but that is boarded over in sealed
steel chests in the bottom of the main hold, with three hundred tons of
timber on top of it.  We will not get our hands on it until we reach
port and unload the main cargo."

"How much gold?"  they pleaded.  "Tell us how much silver."

"Silver in coin to the value of fifty thousand guilders.  That's over
ten thousand good English pounds.  Three hundred ingots of gold from
the mines of Kollur on the Krishna river in Kandy, and the Good Lord
alone knows what those will bring in when we sell them in London."

Hal hung in the mainmast shrouds, a vantage point from which he could
look down on his father on the quarterdeck.  Hardly a word of what he
was saying made sense to Hal, but he realized dimly that this must be
one of the greatest prizes ever taken by English sailors during the
course of this war with the Dutch.  He felt dazed and lightheaded,
unable to concentrate on anything but the greater treasure he had
captured with his own sword, and which now sat demurely behind his
father, attended by her maid.  Chivalrously Sir Francis had placed one
of the carved, cushioned chairs from the captain's cabin on the
quarterdeck for the Dutch governor's wife.  Now Petrus van de Velde
stood behind her, splendidly dressed, wearing high rhine graves of soft
Spanish leather that reached to his thighs, bewigged and beribboned,
his corpulence covered with the medallions and silken sashes of his
office.

To his surprise Hal found that he hated the man bitterly, and lamented
that he had not skewered him as he crawled from under the bed, and so
made the angel who was his wife into a tragic widow.

He imagined devoting his life to playing Lancelot to her Guinevere.  He
saw himself humble and submissive to her every whim but inspired to
deeds of outstanding valour by his pure love for her.  At her behest,
he might even undertake a knightly errand to search for the Holy Grail
and place the sacred relic in her beautiful white hands.  He shuddered
with pleasure at the thought, and stared down longingly at her.

While Hal daydreamed in the rigging, the ceremony on the deck below him
drew to its conclusion.  Behind the Governor were ranked the Dutch
captain and the other captured officers.  Colonel Cornelius Schreuder
was the only one without a Hat, for a bandage swathed his head. Despite
the blow Aboli, had dealt him his eye was still keen and unclouded and
his expression fierce as he listened to Sir Francis list the spoils.

"But that is not all, lads!"  Sir Francis assured his crew.  "We are
fortunate enough to have aboard, as our honoured guest, the new
Governor of the Dutch settlement of the Cape of Good Hope."  With an
ironic flourish he bowed to van de Velde, who glowered at him: now that
his captors had realized his value and position, he felt more secure.

The Englishmen cheered, but their eyes were on Katinka, and Sir Francis
obliged them by introducing her.  "We are also fortunate to have with
us the Governor's lovely wife-" He broke off as the crew sounded their
appreciation of her beauty.

"Coarse peasant cattle," van de Velde growled and laid his hand
protectively upon Katinka's shoulder.  She gazed upon the men with
wide violet eyes, and her beauty and innocence shamed them into an
embarrassed silence.

"Mevrouw van de Velde is the only daughter of Burgher Hendrik Coetzee,
the stadhouder of the City of Amsterdam, and the Chairman of the
governing board of the Dutch East India Company."

The crew stared at her in awe.  Few understood the importance of such
an exalted personage, but the manner in which Sir Francis had recited
these titles had impressed them.

"The Governor and his wife will be held on board this ship until their
ransom is paid.  One of the captured Dutch officers will be despatched
to the Cape of Good Hope with the ransom demand to be transmitted by
the next Company ship to the Council in Amsterdam."

The crew goggled at the couple as they considered this, then Big Daniel
asked, "How much, Sir Francis?  What is the amount of the ransom you
have set?"

"I have set the Governor's ransom at two hundred thousand guilders in
gold coin."

The ship's company was stunned, for such a sum surpassed their
understanding.

Then Daniel bellowed again, "Let's have a cheer for the captain, lads!"
And they yelled until their voices cracked.

Sir Francis walked slowly down the ranks of captured Dutch seamen.
There were forty-seven, eighteen of them wounded.  He examined the face
of each man as he passed: they were rough stock, coarse-featured and
unintelligent of expression.  It was obvious that none had any ransom
value.  They were, rather, a liability, for they had to be fed and
guarded, and there was always the danger that they might recover their
courage and attempt an insurrection.

"The sooner we are rid of them the better," he murmured to himself,
then addressed them aloud in their own language.  "You have done your
duty well.  You will be set free and sent back to the fort at the Cape.
You may take your ditty bags with you, and I will see to it that you
are paid the wages owing you before you go."  Their faces brightened.
They had not expected that.  That should keep them quiet and docile, he
thought, as he turned away to the ladder down to his newly acquired
cabin, where his more illustrious prisoners were waiting for him.

"Gentlemen!"  he greeted them, as he entered and took his seat behind
the mahogany desk.  "Would you care for a glass of Canary wine?"

Governor van de Velde nodded greedily.  His throat was dry and although
he had eaten only half an hour previously his stomach growled like a
hungry dog.  Oliver, Sir Francis's servant, poured the yellow wine into
the long-stemmed glasses and served the sugared fruits he had found in
the Dutch captain's larder.  The captain made a sour face as he
recognized his own fare, but took a large gulp of the Canary.

Sir Francis consulted the pile of manuscript on which he had made his
notes, then glanced at one of the letters he had found in the captain's
desk.  It was from an eminent firm of bankers in Holland.  He looked up
at the captain and addressed him sternly.  "I wonder that an officer of
your service and seniority with the VOC should indulge in trade for his
own account.  We both know it is strictly forbidden by the
Seventeen."

The captain looked as though he might protest, but when Sir Francis
tapped the letter he subsided and glanced guiltily at the Governor, who
sat beside him.

"It seems that you are a rich man, Mijnheer.  You will hardly miss a
ransom of two hundred thousand guilders."  The captain muttered and
scowled darkly, but Sir Francis went on smoothly, "If you will pen a
letter to your bankers, the matter can be settled as between gentlemen,
just as soon as I receive that amount in gold."  The captain inclined
his head in acquiescence.

"Now, as to the ship's officers," Sir Francis went on, "I have examined
your enlistment register."  He drew the book towards him and opened it,
"It seems that they are all men without high connections or financial
substance."  He looked up at the captain.  "Is that the case?"

"That is true, Mijnheer."

"I will send them to the Cape with the common seamen.  Now it remains
to decide to whom we shall entrust the ransom demand to the Council of
the Company for Governor van de Velde and his good lady and, of course,
your letter to your bankers."

Sir Francis looked up at the Governor.  Van de Velde stuffed another
candied fruit into his mouth and replied around it, "Send Schreuder."

"Schreuder?"  Sir Francis riffled through the papers until he found the
colonel's commission.  "Colonel Cornelius Schreuder, the newly
appointed military commander of the fort at Good Hope?"  ja, that one."
Van de Velde reached for another sweetmeat.  "His rank will give him
more standing when he presents your demand for my ransom to my
father-in-law," he pointed out.

Sir Francis studied the man's face as he chewed.  He wondered why the
Governor wanted to be rid of the colonel.  He seemed a good man and
resourceful; it would make more sense to keep him at hand.  However,
what van de Velde said of his status was true.  And Sir Francis sensed
that Colonel Schreuder might play the devil if he were kept captive
aboard the galleon for any length of time.  Much more trouble than he's
worth, he thought, and said aloud, "Very well, I will send him."

The Governor's sugar-coated lips pouted with satisfaction.  He was
fully aware of his wife's interest in the dashing colonel.  He had been
married to her for only a few years, and yet he knew for a certainty
that she had taken at least eighteen lovers in that time, some for only
an hour or an evening.

Her maid, Zelda, was in the pay of van de Velde and reported to him
each of her mistress's adventures, taking a deep vicarious pleasure in
relating every salacious detail.

When van de Velde had first become aware of Katinka's carnal appetite,
he had been outraged.  However, his initial furious remonstrations had
had no effect upon her and he learned swiftly that over her he had no
control.  He could neither protest too much nor send her away for on
the one hand he was besotted by her, and on the other her father was
too rich and powerful.  The advancement of his own fortune and status
depended almost entirely upon her.  In the end his only course of
action had been, as far as possible, to keep temptation and opportunity
from her.  During this voyage he had succeeded in keeping her a virtual
prisoner in her quarters, and he was sure that, had he not done so, his
wife would have already sampled the colonel's wares, which were
ostentatiously on display.  With him sent off the ship .  her choice of
diversion would be severely curtailed and, after a prolonged fast, she
might even become amenable to his own sweaty advances.

"Very well," Sir Francis agreed, "I will send Colonel Schreuder as your
emissary."  He turned the page of the almanac on the desk in front of
him.  "With fair winds, and by the grace of Almighty God, the round
trip from the Cape to Holland and back here to the rendezvous should
not occupy more than eight months.  We can hope that you might be free
to take up your duties at the Cape by Christmas."

"Where will you keep us-until the ransom is received?  My wife is a
lady of quality and delicate disposition."

"In a safe place, and in comfort.  That I assure you, sir."  "Where
will you meet the ship returning with our ransom monies?  "At
thirty-three degrees south latitude and four degrees thirty minutes
east."

"Where, pray, might that be?"

"Why, Governor van de Velde, at the very spot upon the ocean where we
are at this moment."  Sir Francis would not be tricked so readily into
revealing the whereabouts of his base.

In a misty dawn the galleon dropped anchor in the gentler waters behind
a rocky headland of the African coast.  The wind had dropped and begun
to veer.  The end of the summer season was at hand; they were fast
approaching the autumnal equinox.  The Lady Edwina, her pumps pounding
ceaselessly, came alongside and, with fenders of matted oakum between
the hulls, she made fast to the larger vessel.

At once the work of clearing her out began.  Blocks and tackle had
already been rigged from the galleon's yards.  They took out the guns
first.  The great bronze barrels on their trains were swayed aloft.
Thirty seamen walked away with the tackle and then lowered each
culverin to the galleon's deck.  Once these guns were sited, the
galleon would have the firepower of a ship of the line and would be
able to attack any Company galleon on better than equal terms.

Watching the cannon come on board, Sir Francis realized that he now had
the force to launch a raid on any of the Dutch trading harbours in the
Indies.  This capture of the Standvastigheid was only a beginning. From
here he planned to become the terror of the Dutch in the Ocean of the
Indies, just as Sir Francis Drake had scourged the Spanish on their own
main in the previous century.

Now the powder kegs were lifted out of the caravel's magazine.  Few
remained filled after such a long cruise and the heavy actions she had
fought.  However, the galleon still carried almost two tons of
excellent quality gunpowder, sufficient to fight a dozen battles, or to
capture a rich Dutch entrept on the Trincomalee or Javanese coast.

When the furniture and stores had been brought across, water casks and
weapons chests, brine barrels of pickled meats, bread bags and barrels
of flour, the pirmaces were also hoisted aboard and broken down by the
carpenters.  They were stowed away in the galleon's main cargo hold on
top of the stacks of rare oriental timbers.  So bulky were they and so
heavily laden with her own cargo was the galleon that to accommodate
their bulk the hatch coamings had to be left off the main holds until
the prize was taken into Sir Francis's secret base.

Stripped to her planks, the Lady Edwina rode high in the water when
Colonel Schreuder and the released Dutch crew were ready to board her.
Sir Francis summoned the colonel to the quarterdeck and handed him back
his sword and the letter addressed to the Council of the Dutch East
India Company in Amsterdam.  It was stitched in a canvas cover, the
seams sealed with red wax, and tied with ribbon.  It made an impressive
-bundle, which Colonel Schreuder placed firmly under his arm.

"I hope we meet again, Mijnheer," Schreuder said ominously to Sir
Francis.

"In eight months from now I will be at the rendezvous," Sir Francis
assured.  "Then I shall be delighted to see you again, as long as you
have the two hundred thousand gold guilders for me."

"You miss my meaning, "said Cornelius Schreuder grimly.  "I assure you
I do not," responded Sir Francis quietly.  Then the colonel looked to
the break in the poop where Katinka van de Velde stood at her husband's
side.  The deep bow that he made towards them and the look of longing
in his eyes were not for the Governor alone.  "I shall return with all
haste to end your suffering," he told them.

"God be with you," said the Governor.  "Our fate is in your hands."

"You will be assured of my deepest gratitude on your return, my dear
Colonel," Katinka whispered, in a breathless little girl's voice, and
the colonel shivered as though a bucket of icy water had been poured
down his back.  He drew himself to his full height, saluted her, then
turned and strode to the galleon's rail.

Hal was waiting at the port with Aboli and Big Daniel.  The colonel's
eyes narrowed and he stopped in front of Hal and twirled his moustache.
The ribbons on his coat fluttered in the breeze, and the sash of his
rank shimmered as he touched the sword at his side.

"We were interrupted, boy," he said softly, in good unaccented English.
"However, there will be a time and a place for me to finish the
lesson."

"Let us hope so, sir."  Hal was brave with Aboli at his side.  "I am
always grateful for instruction."

For a moment they held each other's eyes, and then Schreuder dropped
over the galleon's side to the deck of the caravel.  Immediately the
lines were cast off and the Dutch crew set the sails.  The Lady Edwina
threw up her stern like a skittish colt and heeled to the press of her
canvas.  Lightly she turned away from the land to make her offing.

"We also will get under way, if you please, Master Ned!"  Sir Francis
said.  "Up with her anchor."

The galleon bore away from the African coast, heading into the south.
From the masthead where Hal crouched the Lady Edwina was still in plain
view.  The smaller vessel was standing out to clear the treacherous
shoals of the Agulhas Cape, before coming around to run before the wind
down to the Dutch fort below the great table-topped mountain that
guarded the south-western extremity of the African continent.

As Hal watched, the silhouette of the caravel's sails altered
drastically.  He leaned out and shouted down, "The Lady Edwina is
altering course."

"Where away?"  his father yelled back.

"She's running free," Hal told him.  "Her new course looks to be due
west."

She was doing precisely what they expected of her.  With the
south-easter well abaft her beam, she was now heading directly for Good
Hope.

"Keep her under your eye."

As Hal watched her, the caravel dwindled in size until her white sails
merged with the tossing manes of the wind driven white horses on the
horizon.

"She's gone!"  he shouted at the quarterdeck.  "Out of sight from
here!"  Sir Francis had waited for this moment before he brought the
galleon around onto her true heading.  Now he gave the orders to the
helm that brought her around towards the east, and she went back on a
broad reach parallel with the African coast.  "This seems to be her
best point of sailing," he said to Hal, as his son came down to the
deck after being relieved at the masthead.  "Even with her
jury-rigging, she's showing a good turn of speed.  We must get to know
the whims and caprice of our new mistress.  Make a cast of the log,
please."

With the glass in hand, Hal timed the wooden log on its reel, dropped
from the bows on its journey back along the hull until it reached the
stern.  He made a quick calculation on the slate, and then looked up at
his father.  "Six knots through the water."

"With a new mainmast she will be good for ten.  Ned Tyler has found a
spar of good Norwegian pine stowed away in her hold.  We will step it
as soon as we get into port."  Sir Francis looked delighted: God was
smiling upon them.  "Assemble the ship's company.  We will ask God's
blessing on her and rename her."

They stood bare-headed in the wind, clutching their caps to their
breasts, their expressions as pious as they could muster, anxious not
to attract the disfavour of Sir Francis.

"We thank you, Almighty God, for the victory you have granted us over
the heretic and the apostate, the benighted followers of the son of
Satan, Martin Luther."

"Amen!"  they cried loudly.  They were all good Anglicans, apart from
the black tribesmen among them, but these Negroes cried, "Amen!"  with
the rest.  They had learned that word their first day aboard Sir
Francis's ship.

"We thank you also for your timely and merciful intervention in the
midst of the battle and your deliverance of us from certain defeat.  -"
Hal shuffled in disagreement, but without looking up.  Some of the
credit for the timely intervention was his, and his father had not
acknowledged this as openly.

"We thank you and praise your name for placing in our hands this fine
ship.  We give you our solemn oath that we will use her to bring
humiliation and punishment upon your enemies.  We ask your blessing
upon her.  We beg you to look kindly upon her, and to sanction the new
name which we now give her.  From henceforth she will become the
Resolution."

His father had simply translated the galleon's Dutch name, and Hal was
saddened that this ship would not bear his mother's name.  He wondered
if his father's memory of his mother was at last fading, or if he had
some other reason for no longer perpetuating her memory.  He knew,
though, that he would never have the courage to ask, and he must simply
accept this decision.

"We ask your continued help and intervention in our endless battle
against the godless.  We thank you humbly for the rewards you have so
bountifully heaped upon us.  And we trust that if we prove worthy you
will reward our worship and sacrifice with further proof of the love
you bear us."

This was a perfectly reasonable sentiment, one with which every man on
board, true Christian or pagan, could be in full accord.  Every man
devoted to God's work on earth was entitled to his rewards, and not
only in the life to come.  The treasures that fitted the Resolution's
holds were proof and tangible evidence of his approval and
consideration towards them.

"Now let's have a cheer for Resolution and all who sail in her."  and
Sir Francis They cheered until they were boars silenced them at last.
He replaced his broad-brimmed Hat and gestured for them to cover their
heads.  His expression became stern and forbidding.  "There is one more
task we have to perform now," he told them, and looked at Big Daniel.
"Bring the prisoners on deck, Master Daniel."

Sam Bowles was at the head of the forlorn file that came up from the
hold, blinking in the sunlight.  They were led facing the ship's
company.  aft and forced to kneel, Sir Francis read their names from
the sheet of parchment he held up.  "Samuel Bowles.  Edward Broom.
Peter Law.  Peter Miller.  John Tate.  You kneel before your shipmates
accused of cowardice and desertion in the face of the enemy, and
dereliction of your duty."

The other men growled and glared at them.

"How say You to these charges?  Are you the cowards and traitors we
accuse you of being?"  "Mercy, your grace!"  Truly we repent.  Forgive
us, we beg you for the sakes of our wives and the sweet babes we left
at home," Sam Bowles pleaded as their spokesman.

"The only wives you ever had were the trulls in the bawdy houses of
Dock Street," Big Daniel mocked him, and the crew roared.  Let's watch
them "String them up at the yard-arm!  dance a little jig to the
devil."

"Shame on you!"  Sir Francis stopped them.  What kind of English
justice is this?  Every man, no matter how base, is entitled to a fair
trial."  They sobered and he went on.  "We will deal with this matter
in proper order.  Who brings these charges against them?"

"We do!"  roared the crew in unison.  "Who are your witnesses?"  "We
are!"  they replied, with a single voice.

"Did you witness any act of treachery or cowardice?  Did you see these
foul creatures flee from the fight and leave their shipmates to their
fate?"

"We did."

"You have heard the testimony against you.  Do you have aught to say
in- your defence?"

"Mercy!"whined Sam Bowles.  The others were dumb.

Sir Francis turned back to the crew.  "And so what is your verdict?"

"Guilty!"  "Guilty as hell!"  added Big Daniel, lest there be any
lingering doubts.

"And your Sentence?"  Sir Francis asked, and immediately an uproar
broke out.

"Hang them!"  "Hanging's too good for the swine.  Keel haul "em."

"No!  No!  Draw and quarter "em.  Make them eat their own balls."

"Let's fry some pork!  Burn the bastards at the stake."

Sir Francis silenced them again.  "I see we have some differences of
opinion."  He gestured to Big Daniel.  "Take them down below and lock
them up.  Let them stew in their own stinking juices for a day or two.
We will deal with them when we get into port.  Until then there are
more important matters to attend to."

For the first time in his life aboard ship, Hal had a cabin of his own.
He need no longer share every sleeping and waking moment of his life
crammed in enforced intimacy with a horde of other humanity.

The galleon was spacious by comparison with the little caravel, and his
father had found a place for him alongside his own magnificent
quarters.  It had been the cupboard of the Dutch captain's servant, and
was a mere cubby-ole.  "You need a lighted place to continue your
studies," Sir Francis had justified this indulgence.  "You waste many
hours each night sleeping when you could be working."  He ordered the
ship's carpenter to knock together a bunk and a shelf on which Hal
could lay out his books and papers.

An oil lamp swung above his head, blackening the deck overhead with its
soot, but giving Hal just enough light to make out his lines and allow
him to write the lessons his father set him.  His eyes burned with
fatigue and he had to stifle his yawns as he dipped his quill and
peered at the sheet of parchment onto which he was copying the extract
from the Dutch captain's directions that his father had captured. Every
navigator had his own personal manual of sailing directions, a
priceless journal in which he kept details of oceans and seas, currents
and coasts, landfalls and harbours; tables of the compass's changeable
and mysterious deviations as a ship voyaged in foreign waters, and
charts of the night sky, which altered with the latitudes.  This was
knowledge that each navigator painstakingly accumulated over his
lifetime, from his own observations or gleaned from the experience and
anecdotes of others.  His father would expect him to complete this work
before his watch at the masthead, which began at four in the morning.

A faint noise from behind the bulkhead distracted him, and he looked up
with the quill still in his hand.  It was a footfall so soft as to be
almost inaudible and came from the luxurious quarters of the Governor's
wife.  He listened with every fibre of his being, trying to interpret
each sound that reached him.  His heart told him that it was the lovely
Katinka, but he could not be certain of that.  It might be her ugly old
maid, or even the grotesque husband.  He felt deprived and cheated at
the thought.

However, he convinced himself that it was Katinka and her nearness
thrilled him, even though the planking of the bulkhead separated them.
He yearned so desperately for her that he could not concentrate on his
task or even remain seated.

He stood, forced to stoop by the low deck above his head, and moved
silently to the bulkhead.  He leaned against it and listened.  He heard
a light scraping, the sound of a something being dragged across the
deck, the rustle of cloth, some further sounds that he could not place,
and then the purling sound of liquid flowing into a basin or bowl. With
his ear against the panel, he visualized every movement beyond. He
heard her dip water with her cupped hands and dash it into her face,
heard her small gasps as the cold struck her cheeks, and then the drops
splash back into the basin.

He looked down and saw that a faint ray of candlelight was shining
through a crack in the panelling, a narrow sliver of yellow light that
wavered in rhythm to the ship's motion.  Without regard to the
consequence of what he was doing, he sank to his knees and placed his
eye to the crack.  He could see little, for it was narrow, and the soft
light of the candle was directly in his eye.

Then something passed between him and the candle, a swirl of silks and
lace.  He stared then gasped as he caught the pearly gleam of flawless
white skin.  It was merely a flash, so swift that he barely had time to
make out the line of a naked back, luminous as mother-of-pearl in the
yellow light.

He pressed his face closer to the panel, desperate for another glimpse
of such beauty.  He fancied that over the normal sound of the ship's
timbers working in the seaway he could hear soft breathing, light as
the whisper of a tropic zephyr.  He held his own breath to listen until
his lungs burned, and he felt light-headed with awe.

At that moment the candle in the other cabin was whisked away, the ray
of light through the crack sped across his straining eye and was gone.
He heard soft footfalls move away, and darkness and silence fell beyond
the panelling.

He stayed kneeling for a long while, like a worshipper at a shrine, and
then rose slowly and seated himself once more at his work shelf.  He
tried to force his tired brain to attend to the task his father had set
him, but it kept breaking away like an unruly colt from the trainer's
noose.  The letters on the page before him dissolved in images of
alabaster skin and golden hair.  In his nostrils was a memory of that
tantalizing odour he had smelt when first he burst into her cabin.  He
covered his eyes with one hand in an attempt to prevent the visions
invading his aching brain.

It was to no avail: his mind was beyond his control.  He reached for
his Bible, which lay beside his journal, and opened the leather cover.
Between the pages was a fine gold filigree, that single strand of hair
that he had stolen from her comb.

He touched it to his lips, then gave a low moan: he fancied he could
still detect a trace of her perfume on it, and he closed his eyes
tightly.

It was some time before he became aware of the actions of his
treacherous right hand.  Like a thief it had crept under the skirts of
the loose canvas petticoat that was his only garment in the hot, stuffy
little cubby-hole.  By the time he realized what he was doing it was
too late to stop himself.  He surrendered helplessly to the pumping and
tugging of his own fingers.  The sweat ran from his every pore and
slicked down his hard young muscles.  The rod he held between his
fingers was hard as bone and endowed with a throbbing life of its
own.

The scent of her filled his head.  His hand beat fast but not as fast
as his heart.  He knew this was sin and folly.  His father had warned
him, but he could not stop.  He writhed on his stool.  He felt the
ocean of his love for her pressing against the dyke of his restraint,
like a high and irresistible tide.  He gave a small cry and the tide
burst from him.  He felt the warm flood of it spray down his rigid
straining thighs, heard it splatter the deck, and then its musky odour
drove the sacred perfume of her hair from his nostrils.

He sat, sweating and panting softly, and let the waves of guilt and
self-disgust overwhelm him.  He had betrayed his father's trust, the
promise he had made him, and with his profane lust, he had besmirched
the pure and lovely image of a saint.

He could not remain in his cabin a moment longer.  He flung on his
canvas sea-jacket and fled up the ladder to the deck.  He stood for a
while at the rail breathing deeply.  The raw salt air cleansed his
guilt and self-disgust.  He felt steadier, and looked about him to take
stock of his surroundings.

The ship was still on the larboard tack, with the wind abeam.  Her
masts swung back and forth across the brilliant canopy of stars.  He
could just make out the lowering mass of the land down to leeward.  The
Great Bear stood a finger's breadth above the dark silhouette of the
land.  It was a nostalgic reminder of the land of his birth, and the
childhood he had left behind.

To the south the sky was dazzling with the constellation of Centaurus
standing above his right shoulder, and the mighty Southern Cross,
burning in its heart.  This was the symbol of this new world beyond the
Line.

He looked to the helm and saw his father's pipe glow in a sheltered
corner of the quarterdeck.  He did not want to face him now, for he was
certain that his guilt and depravity would still be so engraved on his
features that his father would recognize it even in the gloom.  Yet he
knew that his father had seen him, and would count it as odd if he did
not pay him respect.  He went to him quickly.  "Your indulgence,
please, Father.  I came up for a breath of air to clear my head," he
mumbled, not able to meet Sir Francis's eyes.

"Don't idle up here too long," his father cautioned him.  "I will want
to see your task completed before you take your watch at the
masthead."

Hal hurried forward.  This expansive deck was still unfamiliar.  Much
of the cargo and goods from the caravel could not fit into the
galleon's already crammed holds and was lashed down on the deck.  He
picked his way among the casks and chests, and bronze culver ins

Hal was still so deep in remorse and guilt that he was aware of little
around him, until he heard a soft, conspiratorial whispering near at
hand.  His wits returned to him with a rush, and he looked towards the
bows.

A small group of figures was hiding in the shadows cast by the cargo
stacked under the rise of the forecastle.  Their furtive movements
alerted him to something out of the ordinary.

After their trial by their peers, Sam Bowles and his men had been frog
marched down into the galleon's lower decks.  and thrown into a small
compartment, which must have been the carpenter's store.  There was no
light and little air.  The reek of pepper and bilges was stifling, and
the space so confined that all five could not stretch out at the same
time on the deck.  They settled themselves as best they could into this
hellhole, and lapsed into a forlorn, despairing silence.

"Whereabouts are we?  Below the waterline, do you think?"  Ed Broom
asked miserably.

"None of us knows his way about this Dutch hulk," Sam Bowles
muttered.

"Do you reckon they're going to murder us?"  Peter Law asked.

"You can be sure they ain't about to give us a hug and a kiss," Sam
grunted.

"Keel-hauling," Ed whispered.  "I seen it done once.  When they'd
dragged the poor bastard under the ship and got him out tother side he
was drowned dead as a rat in a beer barrel.  There weren't much meat on
his carcass it were all scraped off by the barnacles under the hull.
You could see his bones sticking out all white, like."

They thought about that for a while.  Then Peter Law said, "I saw them
hang and draw the regicides at Tyburn back in "fifty-nine.  They
murdered King Charlie, the Black Boy's father.  They opened their
bellies like fish, then they stuck in an iron hook and twisted it until
they had caught up all they guts, and they pulled their intestines out
of them like ropes.  After that they hacked off their cocks and their
balls.-" "Shut your mouth!"  Sam snarled, and they lapsed into abject
silence in the darkness.

An hour later Ed Broom murmured, "There's air coming in here some
place.  I can feel it on my neck."

After a moment Peter Law said, "He's right, you know.  I can feel it
too."

"What's behind this bulkhead?"

"Ain't nobody knows.  Maybe the main cargo hold."  There was a
scrabbling sound, and Sam demanded, "What you doing?"

"There's a gap in the planking here.  That's where the air's coming
in."

"Let me see."  Sam crawled across and, after a few moments, agreed.
"You're right.  I can get my fingers through the hole."

"If we could open her up."

"If Big Daniel catches you at it, you're in bad trouble."  "What's he
going to do?  Draw and quarter us?  He aims to do that already."

Sam worked in the darkness for a while and then growled, "If I had
something to prise this planking open."  "I'm sitting on some loose
timber."

"Let's have a piece of it here."

They were all working together now, and at last they forced the end of
a sturdy wooden strut through the gap in the bulkhead.  Using it as a
lever they threw their weight on it together.  The wood tore with a
crack and Sam thrust his arm into the opening.  "There's open space
beyond.  Could be a way out."

They all pushed forward for a chance to tear at the edges of the
opening, ripping out their fingernails and driving splinters into the
palms of their hands in their haste.

"Back!  Get back!"  Sam told them, and wriggled headfirst into the
opening.  As soon as they heard him crawling away on the far side they
scrambled through after him.

Groping his way forward Sam choked as the fiery reek of pepper burned
his throat.  They were in the hold that contained the spice casks.
There was a little more light in here: it came in through the gaps
where the hatch coaming had not been secured.

They could hardly make out the huge casks, each taller than a man,
stacked in ranks, and there was no room to crawl over the top, for the
deck was too low.  However, they could just squeeze between them, but
it was a hazardous passage.

The heavy- casks shifted slightly with the action of the ship.  They
scraped and thumped on the timbers of the deck and fretted against the
ropes that restrained them.  A man would be crushed like a cockroach if
he were caught between them.

Sam Bowles was the smallest.  He crawled ahead and the others followed.
Suddenly a piercing scream rang through the hold and froze them all.

"Quiet, you stupid bastard!"  Sam turned back in fury.  "You'll have
"em down on us."

"My arm!"  screamed Peter Law.  "Get it off me."

One of the huge casks had lifted with the roll of the hull and then
come down again, its full weight trapping the man's arm against the
deck.  It was still sliding and pounding down on his limb, and they
could hear the bones in his forearm and elbow crushing like dry wheat
between millstones.  He was screeching in hysteria and there was no
quieting him.  pain had driven him beyond all reasoning.

Sam crawled back and reached his side.  "Shut your mouth!"  He grabbed
Peter's shoulder and heaved, trying to drag him clear.  But the arm was
jammed, and Peter screamed all the louder.

"Ain't nothing for it," Sam growled, and from around his waist he
pulled the length of rope that served him as a belt.  He dropped a loop
over the other man's head and drew the noose tight round his throat.
He leaned back on it, anchoring both feet between his victim's shoulder
blades, and pulled with all his strength.  Abruptly Peter's wild
screams were cut off.  Sam kept the noose tight for some time after the
struggles had ceased, then freed it and retied it about his waist.  "I
had to do it," he muttered to the others.  "Better one man dead than
all of us."

No one spoke, but they followed Sam as he crawled forward, leaving the
strangled corpse to be crushed to mincemeat by the shifting casks.

"Give me a hand here," Sam said and the others boosted him up onto one
of the casks below the hatch.

"There's naught but a piece of canvas "tween us and the deck now," he
whispered triumphantly, and reached up to touch the tightly stretched
cover.

"Come on, let's get out of here," Ed Broom whispered.  "Still broad day
out there."  Sam held him as he tried to loosen the ropes that held the
canvas cover in place.  "Wait for dark.  Won't be long now."

Gradually the light filtering down through the chinks around the canvas
cover dulled and faded.  They could hear the ship's bell tolling the
watches.

"End of the last dog watch," said Ed.  "Let's go now."

"Give it a while more," Sam urged.  After another hour, he nodded.

"Loose those sheets."

"What we going to do out there?"  Now that it was time to move they
were fearful.  "You'll not be thinking of trying to take the ship?"

"Nay, you donkey.  I've had enough of your bloody Captain Franky.  Find
anything that floats and then it's over the side for me.  The land's
not far off."

"What of the sharks?"

"Captain Franky bites worse than any sodding shark you'll meet out
there."

No one argued with that.

They freed a corner of the canvas, and Sam lifted the flap and peered
out.  "All clear.  There's some of the empty water casks at the foot of
the foremast.  They'll do us just Jack-a-dandy."

He wriggled out from under the canvas and darted across the deck.  The
others followed, one at a time, and helped him tear at the lashing that
held the empty casks in place.  Within seconds they had two clear.

"Together now, lads," Sam whispered, and they trundled the first across
the deck.  They heaved up the cask between them and flung it over the
rail, ran back and grabbed a second.

"Hey!  You men!  What are you doing?"  The challenge from close at hand
shocked them all and they turned pale faces to look back.  They all
recognized Hal.

"It's Franky's whelp!"  one cried, and they dropped the cask and
scampered for the ship's side.  Ed Broom was first over.  He dived
headlong, with Peter Miller and John Tate close behind him.

Hal took a moment to realize what they were up to, and then bounded
forward to intercept Sam Bowles.  He was the ringleader, the most
guilty of the gang, and Hal tackled him as he reached the ship's
rail.

"Father!"  he shouted, loud enough for his voice to carry to every
quarter of the deck.  "Father, help me!"

Locked chest to chest they struggled.  Hal fastened a head-lock on him,
but Sam threw back his head then butted forward in the hope of breaking
Hal's nose.  But Big Daniel had taught Hal his wrestling, and he had
been ready.  he dropped his chin on his chest so that his skull clashed
with Sam's.  Both men were half stunned by the impact, and broke from
each other's grip.

Instantly Sam lurched for the rail but, on his knees, Hal grabbed at
his legs.  "Father!"  he screamed again.  Sam tried to kick him off but
Hal held on grimly.  Then Sam looked up and saw Sir Francis Courtney
charging down from the quarterdeck.  His sword was out and the blade
flashed in the starlight.

"Hold hard, Hal!  I'm coming!"

There was no time for Sam to free the rope belt from around his middle,
and drop the loop over Hal's head.  Instead he reached down and locked
both hands around his throat.  He was a small man, but his fingers were
work-toughened, hard as iron marlin spikes  He found Hal's windpipe and
blocked it off ruthlessly.

The pain choked Hal, and his grip loosened on Sam's legs.  He seized
the man's wrists, trying to break his stranglehold, but Sam placed one
foot on his chest, kicked him over backwards, then darted to the side
of the ship.  Sir Francis aimed a sword cut at him as he ran up, but
Sam ducked under it and dived over the rail.

"The treacherous vermin will get clear away!"  Sir Francis howled.

"Boatswain, call all hands to tack ship.  We will go back to pick them
up."

Sam Bowles was driven deep by the force with which he hit the water,
and the shock of the cold drove the wind from his lungs.  He felt
himself drowning, but fought and clawed his way up.  At last his head
broke the surface, he sucked in a lungful of air and felt the
dizziness, and the weakness in his limbs, pass.

He looked up at the hull of the ship, trundling majestically past him,
and then he was left in her wake, which glistened slick and oily in the
starlight.  That was the highway that would guide him back to the cask.
He must follow it before the swells wiped it away and left him with no
signpost in the darkness.  His feet were bare and he wore only a ragged
cotton shirt and his canvas petticoats, which would not encumber his
movements.  He struck out overarm for, unlike most of his fellows, he
was a strong swimmer.

Within a dozen strokes he heard a voice in the darkness nearby.  "Help
me, Sam Bowles!"  He recognized Ed Broom's wild cries.  "Give me a
hand, shipmate, or I'm done for."

Sam stopped to tread water and, in the starlight, saw the splashes of
Ed's struggles.  Beyond him he saw something else lift on the crest of
a dark swell, something black and round.

The cask!

But Ed was between him and this promise of survival.  Sam started
swimming again, but he sheered away from Ed Broom.  It was dangerous to
come too close to a drowning man, for he would always seize you and
hang on with a death grip, until he had taken you down with him.

"Please, Sam!  Don't leave me."  Ed's voice was growing fainter.

Sam reached the floating cask and got a handhold on the protruding
spigot.  He rested a while then roused himself as another head bobbed
up beside him.  "Who's that?"  he gasped.

"It's me, John Tate," the swimmer blurted out, coughing up sea water as
he tried to find a hold on the barrel.

Sam reached down and loosened the rope belt from around his waist.

He used it to take a turn around the spigot and thrust his arm through
the loop.  John Tate grabbed at the loop too.

Sam tried to push him away.  "Leave it!  It's mine."  But John's grip
was desperate with panic and after a minute Sam let him be.  He could
not afford to squander his own strength in wrestling with a bigger
man.

They hung together on the rope in a hostile truce.  "What happened to
Peter Miller?  "John Tate demanded, "Bugger Peter Miller!"  snarled
Sam.

The water was cold and dark, and both men imagined what might be
lurking beneath their feet.  A pack of the monstrous tiger sharks
always followed the ship in these latitudes, to pick up the offal and
contents of the latrine buckets as they were emptied overboard.  Sam
had seen one of these fearsome creatures as long as the Lady Edwina's
pinnace and he thought about it now.  He felt his lower body cringe and
tremble with cold and the dread of those serried ranks of fangs closing
over it to shear him in two, as he might bite into a ripe apple.

"Look!"  John Tate choked as a wave hit him in the face and flooded his
open mouth.  Sam raised his head and saw a dark, mountainous shape loom
out of the night close by.

"Bloody Franky come back to find us," he growled, through chattering
teeth.  They watched in horror as the galleon bore down on them,
growing larger with each second until she seemed to blot out all the
stars and they could hear the voices of the men on her deck.

"Do you see anything there, Master Daniel?"  That was Sir Francis's
hail.

"Nothing, Captain," Big Daniel's voice boomed from the bows.  Looking
down onto the black, turbulent water it would be nigh on impossible to
make out the dark wood of the cask or the two heads bobbing beside
it.

They were hit by the bow wave the galleon threw up as she passed and
were left twisting and bobbing in her wake as her stern lantern receded
into the darkness.

Twice more during the night they saw its glimmer, but each time the
ship passed further from them.  Many hours later, as the dawn light
strengthened, they looked with trepidation for Resolution, but she was
nowhere in sight.  She must have given them up for drowned and headed
off on her original course.  Stupefied with cold and fatigue, they hung
on to their precarious handhold.

"There's the land," Sam whispered, as a swell lifted them high, and
they could make out the dark shoreline of Africa.  "It's so close you
could swim to it easy."

John Tate made no reply but stared at him sullenly through eyes scalded
red and swollen.

"It's your best chance.  Strong young fellow like you.  Don't worry
about me."  Sam's voice was rough with salt.  "You'll not get rid of me
that easy, Sam Bowles," John grated, and Sam fell silent again,
husbanding his strength, for the cold had sapped him almost to his
limit.  The sun rose higher and they felt it on their heads, first as a
gentle warmth that gave them new strength and then like the flames of
an open furnace that seared their skin and dazzled and blinded them
with its reflection off the sea around them.

The sun climbed higher, but the land came no closer.  the current bore
them inexorably parallel to the rocky headlands and white beaches.
Idly Sam noticed a patch of cloud shadow that passed close by them,
moving darkly across the surface of the water.  Then the shadow turned
and came back, moving against the wind, and Sam stirred and lifted his
head.  There was no cloud in the aching blue vault of the sky to cast
such a shadow.  Sam looked down again and concentrated his full
attention on that dark presence on the sea.  A swell lifted the cask so
high that he could look down upon it.

"Sweet Jesus!"  he croaked, through cracked salt-seared lips.  The
water was as clear as a glass of gin, and he had seen a great dappled
shape move beneath, the dark zebra stripes upon its back.  He
screamed.

John Tate lifted his head.  "What is it?  The sun's got you, Sam
Bowles."  He stared into Sam's wild eyes, then turned his head slowly
to follow their gaze.  Both men saw the massive forked tail swing
ponderously from side to side, driving the long body forward.  It was
coming up towards the surface and the tip of the tall dorsal fin broke
through, only to the length of a man's finger, the rest still hidden
deep beneath.

Shark!  "John Tate hissed.  "Tiger!"  He kicked frantically, trying to
turn the cask to interpose Sam between himself and the creature.

"Stay still," Sam snarled.  "He's like a cat.  If you move he'll come
for you."

They could see its eye, small for such girth and length of body.  It
stared at them implacably as it began the next circle.  Round it went,
and round again, each circle narrower, with the cask at its centre.

"Bastard's hunting us like a stoat after a partridge."

"Shut your mouth.  Don't move," Sam moaned, but he could no longer
control his terror.  His sphincter loosened, and he felt the fetid warm
rush under his petticoats as involuntarily his bowels emptied.
Immediately the creature's movements became more excited and its tail
beat to a faster rhythm as it tasted his excrement.  The dorsal fin
rose to its full height above the surface, as long and curved as the
blade of a harvester's scythe.

The shark's tail beat the surface white and foamy as it drove forward
until its snout crashed into the side of the cask.  Sam watched in
terror as a miraculous transformation came over the sleek head.  The
upper lip bulged outwards as the wide jaws gaped.  The ranks of fangs
were thrust forward, fanning open, and clashed against the side of the
wooden cask.

Both men panicked and scrabbled at their damaged raft, trying to lift
their lower bodies clear of the water.  They were screaming
incoherently, clawing wildly at the barrel staves and at each other.

The shark backed off and started another of those terrible circles.
Beneath the staring eye the mouth was a grinning crescent.  Now the
thrashing legs of the struggling men gave it a new focus, and it surged
in again, its broad back thrusting aside the waters.

John Tate's shriek was cut off abruptly, but his mouth was still wide
open, so that Sam looked down his pink gulping throat.  No sound came
from it but a soft hiss of expelled breath.  Then he was jerked beneath
the surface.  His left wrist was still twisted into the loop of line
and, as he was pulled under, the cask bobbed and ducked like a cork.

"Leave go!  Sam howled as he was thrown around, the rope biting deep
into his own wrist.  Suddenly the cask flew to the surface, John Tate's
wrist still twisted into the hight of line.  A dark roseate cloud
spread to disco lour the surface around them.

Then John's head broke out.  He made a harsh, cawing sound, and his
bloodstained spittle sprayed into Sam's eyes.  His face was icy white
as his life's blood drained from him.  The shark came surging back and,
beneath the surface, latched onto John's lower body, worrying and
shaking him so that the damaged cask was again pulled under.  As it
shot once more to the surface, Sam sucked in a breath, and tugged at
John's wrist.  "Get away!"  he screamed at both man and shark.  "Get
away from me."  With the strength of a madman, he pulled the loop free
and he kicked at the other man's chest, pushing him clear, screaming
all the while" "Get away!"

John Tate did not resist.  His eyes were still wide open but although
his lips writhed, no sound came from them.  "Below the surface his body
had been bitten away below the waist, and his blood turned the waters
dark red.  The shark seized him once again, then swam off, gulping down
lumps of John Tate's flesh.

The damaged cask had taken in water and now floated low, but this gave
it a stability it had lacked when it rode high and lightly.  At the
third attempt Sam dragged himself up onto it.  He draped both arms and
legs over it, straddling it.  The cask's balance was precarious and he
dared not lift even his head for fear of upsetting it and being rolled
back into the sea.  After a while he saw the great dorsal fin pass
before his eyes as the creature came back once more to the cask.  He
dared not lift his head to follow the narrowing circles, so he closed
his eyes and tried to shut his mind to the beast's presence.

Suddenly the cask lurched under him and his resolve was forgotten.

His eyes flew wide and he shrieked.  But after having bitten into the
wood the shark was backing away.  Twice more it returned, each time
nudging the cask with its grotesque snout.  However, each attempt was
less determined, perhaps because it had assuaged its appetite on John
Tate's carcass and was now discouraged by the taste and smell of the
splinters of wood.  Eventually Sam saw it turn and move away, its tall
fin wagging from side to side as it swam up-current.

He lay unmoving, draped over the cask, riding the salty belly of the
ocean, rising and falling to her thrusts like an exhausted lover.  The
night fell over him, and now he could not have moved even if he had
wished to.  He fell into delirium and bouts of oblivion.

He dreamed that it was morning again, that he had survived the night.
He dreamed that he heard human voices near at hand.  He dreamed that
when he opened his eyes he saw a tall ship, hove to close alongside. He
knew it was fantasy for, in a twelve-month span, fewer than two dozen
ships rounded this remote cape at the end of the world.  Yet, as he
watched, a boat was lowered from the ship's side and rowed towards him.
Only when he felt rough hands seize his legs did he realize dully that
this was no dream.

The Resolution edged in towards the land with only a feather of canvas
set and the crew standing ready for the order to whip it off and furl
it on her masts.

Sir Francis's eyes darted from the sails to the land close ahead.  He
listened intently to the chant of the leadsman as he swung the line and
let the weight drop ahead of their bows.  As the ship passed over it,
and the line came straight up and down, he read the sounding.  "By the
deep twenty!"  "Top of the tide in an hour."  Hal looked up from the
slate.  "And full moon in three days.  She'll be making springs."

"Thank you, pilot," Sir Francis said, with a touch of sarcasm.  Hal was
only performing his duty, but the lad was not the only one aboard who
had pored for hours over the almanac and the tables.  Then Sir Francis
relented.  "Get up to the masthead, lad.  Keep your eyes wide open."

He watched Hal race up the shrouds, then glanced at the helm and said
quietly, "Larboard a point, Master Ned."  "A point to larboard it is,
Captain."  With his teeth Ned moved the stern of his empty clay pipe
from one corner of his mouth to the other.  He, too, had seen the
white surge of reef at the entrance to the channel.

The land was so close now that they could make out the individual
branches of the trees that grew tall on the rocky heads that guarded
the entrance.  "Steady as she goes," Sir Francis said, as the
Resolution crept forward between these towering cliffs of rock.  He had
never seen this entrance marked on any chart that he had either
captured or purchased.  This coast was depicted always as forbidding
and dangerous, with few safe anchorages for a thousand miles north from
Table Bay at Good Hope.  Yet as the Resolution thrust deeper into the
green water channel, a lovely broad lagoon opened ahead of her,
surrounded on all sides by high hills, densely forested.

"Elephant Lagoon!"  Hal exulted at the masthead.  It was over two
months since last they had sailed from this secret sally port  As if to
justify the name that Sir Francis had given this harbour, there came a
clarion blast from the beach below the forest.

Hal laughed with pleasure as he picked out on the beach four huge grey
shapes.  They stood shoulder to shoulder in a solid rank, facing the
ship, their ears spread wide.  Their trunks were raised straight and
high, the nostrils at the tips questing the air for the scent of this
strange apparition they saw coming towards them.  The bull elephant
lifted his long yellow tusks and shook his head until his ears clapped
like the tattered grey canvas of an unfurling main sail.  He trumpeted
again.

In the ship's bows, Aboli returned the greeting, raising his hand above
his head in salute and calling out in the Lnguage that only Hal could
understand, "I see you, wise old man.  Go in peace, for I am of your
totem and I mean you no harm."

At the sound of his voice the elephants backed away from the water's
edge, then turned as one and headed back into the forest at a shambling
run.  Hal laughed again, at Aboli's words and to watch the great beasts
go, trampling and shaking the forest with their might.

Then he concentrated once more on picking out the sandbanks and shoals,
and in calling down directions to his father on the quarterdeck.  The
Resolution followed the meandering channel down the length of the
lagoon until she came out into a wide green pool.  The last scrap of
her canvas was stripped and furled on her yards, and her anchor
splashed into its depths.  She swung round gently and snubbed at her
anchor chain.

She lay only fifty yards off the beach, hidden behind a small island in
the lagoon, so that she was concealed from the casual scrutiny of a
passing ship looking in through the entrance between the heads.  The
way was scarcely off her before Sir Francis was shouting his orders.
"Carpenter!  Get the pinnaces assembled and launched."

Before noon the first was lowered from the deck to the water, and ten
men went down into her with their ditty bags.  Big Daniel took charge
of the oarsmen, who rowed them down the lagoon and put them ashore at
the foot of the rocky heads.  Through his telescope Sir Francis watched
them climb the steep elephant path to the summit.  From there they
would keep a lookout and warn him of the approach of any strange
sail.

"On the morrow we will move the culver ins to the entrance and set them
up in stone emplacements to cover the channel," he told Hal.  "Now, we
will celebrate our arrival with fresh fish for our dinner.  Get out the
hooks and lines.  Take Aboli and four men with you in the other
pinnace.  Dig some crabs from the beach and bring me back a load of
fish for the ship's mess."

Standing in the bows as the pinnace was rowed out into the channel, Hal
peered down into the water.  It was so clear that he could see the
sandy bottom.  The lagoon teemed with fish and shoal after shoal sped
away before the boat.  Many were as long as his arm, some as long as
the spread of both arms.

When they anchored in the deepest part of the channel, Hal dropped a
hand line over the side, the hooks baited with crabs they had taken
from their holes on the sandy beach.  Before it touched the bottom, the
bait was seized with such rude power that before he could check it the
line scorched his fingers.  Leaning back against the line he brought it
in hand over hand, and swung a flapping, glistening body of purest
silver over the gunwale.

While it still thumped upon the deck and Hal struggled to twist the
barbed hook from its rubbery lip, Aboli shouted with excitement and
heaved back on his own line.  Before he could swing his fish over the
side, all the other sailors were laughing and straining to pull heavy
darting fish aboard.

Within the hour the deck was knee-deep in dead fish and they were all
smeared to the eyebrows with slime and scales.  Even the hard,
rope-calloused hands of the seamen were bleeding from line burn and the
prick of sharp fins.  It was no longer sport but hard work to keep the
inverted waterfall of living silver streaming over the side.

Just before sunset Hal called a halt, and they rowed back towards the
anchored galleon.  They were still a hundred yards from her when, on an
impulse, Hal stood up in the stern and stripped off his stinking
slime-coated clothes.  Stark mother naked he balanced on the thwart,
and called to Aboli, "Take her alongside and unload the catch.  I will
swim from here."  He had not bathed in over two months, since last they
had anchored in the lagoon, and he longed for the feel of cool clear
water on his skin.  He gathered himself and dived overboard.  The men
at the galleon's rail shouted ribald encouragement and even Sir Francis
paused and watched him indulgently.

"Let him be, Captain.  He's still a carefree boy," said Ned Tyler.

"It's just that he's so big and tall that we sometimes forget that."
Ned had been with Sir Francis for so many years that he could be
forgiven such familiarity.

"There's no place for a thoughtless boy in the guerre de course.  This
is man's work and it needs a hard head on even the most youthful
shoulders or there'll be a Dutch noose for that thoughtless head."  But
he made no effort to reprimand Hal as he watched his naked white body
slide through the water, supple and agile as a dolphin.

Katinka heard the commotion on the deck above, and raised her eyes from
the book she was reading.  It was a copy of Francois Rabelais's
Gargantua and Pantagruel which had been printed privately in Paris with
beautifully detailed erotic illustrations, hand-coloured and lifelike.
A young man she had known in Amsterdam before her hasty marriage had
sent it to her.  From close and intimate experience, he knew her tastes
well.  She glanced idly through the window and her interest quickened.
She dropped the book and stood up for a better view.

MevroU, your husband, "Zelda warned her.

"The devil with my husband," said Katinka, as she stepped out onto the
stern gallery and shaded her eyes against the slanting rays of the
setting sun, The young Englishman who had captured her stood in the
stern of a small boat, not far across the quiet lagoon waters.  As she
watched he stripped off his soiled and tattered clothing, until he
stood naked and unashamed, balancing with easy grace on the gunwale.

As a young girl she had accompanied her father to Italy.

There she had bribed Zelda to take her to see the collection of
sculptures by Michelangelo, while her father was meeting with his
Italian trading partners.  She had spent almost an hour of that sultry
afternoon standing before the statue of David.  Its beauty had aroused
in her a turmoil of emotion.  It was the first depiction of masculine
nudity she had ever looked upon, and it had changed her life.

Now she was looking at another David sculpture, but this one was not of
cold marble.  Of course, since their first encounter in her cabin she
had seen the boy often.  He dogged her footsteps like an
over-affectionate puppy.  Whenever she left her cabin he appeared
miraculously, to moon at her from afar.  His transparent adoration
afforded her only the mildest amusement, for she was accustomed to no
less from every man between the ages of fourteen and eighty.  He had
barely warranted more than a glance, this pretty boy, in baggy, filthy
rags.  After their first violent meeting, the stink of him had lingered
in her cabin, so pungent that she had ordered Zelda to sprinkle perfume
to dispel it.  But, then, she knew from bitter experience that all
sailors stank for there was no water on the ship other than for
drinking, and little enough of that.

Now that the lad had shed his noisome clothing, he had become a thing
of striking beauty.  Though his arms and face were bronzed by the sun,
his torso and legs were carved in pure unsullied white.  The low sun
gilded the curves and angles of his body and his dark hair tumbled down
his back.  His teeth were very white in the tanned face, and his
laughter so musical and filled with such zest that it brought a smile
to her own lips.

Then she looked down his body and her mouth opened.  The violet eyes
narrowed and became calculating.  The sweet lines of his face were
deceiving.  He was a lad no longer.  His belly was flat, ridged with
fine young muscle like the sands of a wind-sculpted dune.  At its base
flared a dark bush of crisp curls, and his rosy genitals hung full and
weighty, with an authority that those of Michelangelo's David had
lacked.

When he dived into the lagoon, she could follow his every movement
beneath the clear water.  He came to the surface and, laughing, flung
the sodden hair from his face with a toss of his head.  The flying
droplets sparkled like the sacred nimbus of light around the head of an
angel.

He struck out towards where she stood, high in the stern, gliding
through the water with a peculiar grace that she had not noticed he
possessed when clothed in his canvas tatters.  He passed almost
directly under where she was but did not look up at her, unaware of her
scrutiny.  She could make out the knuckles of his spine flanked by
ridges of hard muscle that ran down to merge with the deep crease
between his lean, round buttocks, which tightened erotically with every
kick of his legs, as though he were making love to the water as he
passed through it.

She leaned out to follow him with her eyes, but he swam out of her view
around the stern.  Katinka pouted with frustration and went to retrieve
her book.  But the illustrations in it had lost their appeal, paling
against the contrast of real flesh and glossy young skin.

She sat with it open on her lap and imagined that hard young body all
white and glistening above her and those tight young buttocks bunching
and changing shape as she dug her sharp fingernails into them.

She knew instinctively that he was a virgin she could almost smell the
honey sweet odour of chastity upon him and felt herself drawn to it,
like a wasp to an overripe fruit.  It would be her first time with a
sexual innocent.  The thought of it added spice to his natural
beauty.

Her erotic daydreams were aggravated by the long period of her enforced
abstinence and she lay back and pressed her thighs tightly together,
beginning to rock gently back and forth in her chair, smiling secretly
to herself.

Hal spent the next three nights camped on the beach below the heads.
His father had Hplaced him in charge of ferrying the cannon ashore and
building the stone emplacements to house them, overlooking the narrow
entrance to the lagoon.

Naturally Sir Francis had rowed across to approve the sites his son had
chosen, but even he could find no fault with Hal's eye for a field of
fire that would rake an enemy ship seeking to pass through the heads.

On the fourth day, when the work was done and Hal was rowed back down
the lagoon, he saw from afar that the work of repairing the galleon was
well in hand.  The carpenter and his mates had built scaffolds over her
stern, from which platform they were fitting new timbers to replace
those damaged by gunfire, to the great discomfort of the guests aboard.
The ungainly jury mast raised by the Dutch captain to replace his
gale-shattered main, had been taken down and the galleon's lines were
awkward and unharmonious with one mast missing.

However, when Hal climbed up to the deck through the entry port he saw
that Ned Tyler and his work gang were swaying up the massive baulks of
exotic timber that made up the heaviest part of the ship's cargo and
lowering them into the lagoon to float across to the beach.

The spare mast was stowed at the bottom of the hold, where the sealed
compartment contained the coin and ingots.  The cargo had to be removed
to reach them.

"Your father has sent for you," Aboli greeted Hal, and Hal hurried
aft.

"You have missed three days of your studies while you were ashore," Sir
Francis told him, without preamble.

"Yes, Father."  Hal knew that it was vain to point out that he had not
deliberately evaded them.  But, at least, I will not apologize for it,
he determined silently, and met his father's gaze unflinchingly.

"After your supper this evening, I will rehearse you in the catechism
of the Order.  Come to my cabin at eight bells in the second dog
watch."

The catechism of initiation to the Order of St.  George and the Holy
Grail had never been written down and for nearly four centuries the two
hundred esoteric questions and answers had been passed on by word of
mouth, master instructing novice in the Strict Observance.

Sitting beside Aboli on the foredeck, Hal wolfed hot biscuit, fried in
dripping, and baked fresh fish.  Now with an unlimited supply of
firewood and fresh food on hand, the ship's meals were substantial, but
Hal was silent as he ate.  In his mind he went over his catechism, for
his father would be strict in his judgement.  Too soon the ship's bell
struck and, as the last note faded, Hal tapped on the door to his
father's cabin.

While his father sat at his desk Hal knelt on the bare planks of the
deck.  Sir Francis wore the cloak of his office over his shoulders, and
on his breast sparkled the magnificent seal fashioned of gold, the
insignia of a Nautonnier Knight who had passed through all the degrees
of the Order.  It depicted the lion rampant of England holding aloft
the croix paWe and, above it, the stars and crescent moon of the mother
goddess.  The lion's eyes were rubies and the stars were diamonds.  On
the second finger of his right hand he wore a narrow gold ring,
engraved with a compass and a backstaff, the tools of the navigator,
and above these a crowned lion.  The ring was small and discreet, not
as ostentatious as the seal.

His father conducted the catechism in Latin.  The use of this language
ensured that only literate, educated men could ever become members of
the Order.

"Who are you?"  Sir Francis asked the first question.  "Henry Courtney,
son of Francis and Edwina."  "What is your business here?"

"I come to present myself as an acolyte of the Order of St.  George and
the Holy Grail."

"Whence, come you?"

"From the ocean sea, for that is my beginning and at my ending will be
my shroud."  With this response Hal acknowledged the maritime roots of
the Order.  The next fifty questions examined the novice's
understanding of the history of the Order.

"Who went before you?"

"The Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon."  The Knights
of the Temple of the Order of St.  George and the Holy Grail were the
successors to the extinct Order of the Knights Templar.

After that Sir Francis made Hal outline the history of the Order, how
in the year 1312 the Knights Templar had been attacked and destroyed by
the King of France, Philippe Le Bel, in connivance with his puppet Pope
Clement V of Bordeaux.  Their vast fortune in bullion and land was
confiscated by the Crown, and most of them were tortured and burned at
the stake.  However, warned by their allies, the Templar mariners
slipped their moorings in the French channel harbours and stood out to
sea.  They steered for England, and sought the protection of King
Edward II.  Since then, they had opened their lodges in Scotland and
England under new names, but with the basic tenets of the Order
intact.

Next Sir Francis made his son repeat the arcane words of recognition,
and the grip of hands that identified the Knights to each other.

"In Arcadia habito.  I dwell in Arcadia," Sir Francis intoned, as he
stooped over Hal to take his right hand in the double grip.

"Flumen sac rum bene cognosco!  I know well the sacred river!"  Hal
replied reverently, interlocking his forefinger with his father's in
the response.

"Explain the meaning of these words, "his father insisted.  "It is our
covenant with God and each other.  The Temple is Arcadia, and we are
the river."

The ship's bell twice sounded the passage of the hours before the two
hundred questions were asked and answered, and Hal was allowed to rise
stiffly from his knees.

When he reached his tiny cabin he was too weary even to light the oil
lamp and dropped to his bunk fully clothed to lie there in a stupor of
mental exhaustion.  The questions and responses of the catechism
echoed, an endless refrain, through his tired brain, until meaning and
reality seemed to recede.

Then he heard faint sounds of movement from beyond the bulkhead and,
miraculously, his fatigue cleared.  He sat up, his senses tuned to the
other cabin.  He would not light the lamp for the sound of steel
striking flint would carry through the panel.  He rolled off his bunk
and, in the darkness, moved on silent bare feet to the bulkhead.

He knelt and ran his fingers lightly along the joint in the woodwork
until he found the plug he had left there.  Quietly he removed it and
placed his eye to the spy hole

Each day his father allowed Katinka van de Velde and her maid, with
Aboli to guard them, to go ashore and walk on the beach for an hour.
That afternoon while the women had been away from the ship, Hal had
found a moment to steal down to his cabin.  He had used the point of
his dirk to enlarge the crack in the bulkhead.  Then he had whittled a
plug of matching wood to close and conceal the opening.

Now he was filled with guilt, but he could not restrain himself.  He
placed his eye to the enlarged aperture.  His view into the small cabin
beyond was unimpeded.  A tall Venetian mirror was fixed to the bulkhead
opposite him and, in its reflection, he could see clearly even those
areas of the cabin that otherwise would have been hidden from him.  It
was apparent that this smaller cabin was an annexe to the larger and
more splendid main cabin.  It seemed to serve as a dressing and
retiring place where the Governor's wife could take her bath and attend
to her private and intimate toilet.  The bath was set up in the centre
of the deck, a heavy ceramic hip bath in the Oriental style, the sides
decorated with scenes of mountain landscapes and bamboo forests.

Katinka sat on a low stool across the cabin and her maid was tending
her hair with one of the silver-backed brushes.  It flowed down to her
waist, and each stroke made it shimmer in the lamp-light.  She wore a
gown of brocade, stiff with gold embroidery, but Hal marvelled that her
hair was more brilliant than the precious metal thread.

He gazed at her, entranced, trying to memorize each gesture of her
white hands, and each delicate movement of her lovely head.  The sound
of her voice and her soft laughter were balm to his exhausted mind and
body.  The maid finished her task, and moved away.  Katinka stood up
from her stool and Hal's spirits plunged, for he expected her to take
up the lamp and leave the cabin.  But instead she came towards him.
Though she passed out of his direct line of sight he could still see
her reflection in the mirror.  There was only the thickness of the
panel between them now, and Hal was afraid she might become aware of
his hoarse breathing.

He gazed at her reflection as she stooped and lifted the lid of the
night cabinet that was affixed to the opposite side of the bulkhead
against which Hal pressed.  Suddenly, before he realized what she
intended, she swept the skirts of her gown above her waist and, in the
same movement, perched like a bird on the seat of the cabinet.  _She
continued to laugh and chat to her maid as her water putted into the
chamber-pot beneath her.  When she rose again Hal was given one more
glimpse of her long pale legs before the skirts dropped over them and
she swept gracefully from the cabin.

Hal lay on his hard bunk in the dark, his hands clasped across his
chest, and tried to sleep.  But the images of her beauty tormented
him.

His body burned and he rolled restlessly from side to side.  "I will be
strong!"  he whispered aloud, and clenched his fists until the knuckles
cracked.  He tried to drive the vision from his mind, but it buzzed in
his brain like a swarm of angry bees.  Once again he heard, in his
imagination, her laughter, mingle with the merry tinkle she made in her
chamber-pot, and he could resist no longer.  With a groan of guilt he
capitulated and reached down with both hands to his swollen, throbbing
loins.

Since the cargo of timber had been lifted out of the main hold, the
spare mast could be raised to the deck.  It was a labour that required
half the ship's company.  The massive spar was almost as long as the
galleon and had to be carefully manoeuvred from its resting place in
the bowels of the hold.  It was floated across the channel and then
dragged up the beach.  There,in a clearing beneath the spreading forest
canopy, the carpenters set it on trestles and began to trim and shape
it, so that it could be stepped into the hull to replace the
gale-shattered mast.

Only once the hold was emptied could Sir Francis call the entire ship's
company to witness the opening of the treasure compartment that the
Dutch authorities had deliberately covered with the heaviest cargo.

It was the usual practice of the VOC to secure the most valuable items
in this manner.  Several hundred tons of heavy timber baulks stacked
over the entrance to the strong room would deter even the most
determined thief from tampering with its contents.

While the crew crowded the opening of the hatch above them Sir Francis
and the boatswains went down, each carrying a lighted lantern, and
knelt in the bottom of the hold to examihe the seals that the Dutch
Governor of Trincomalee had placed on the entrance.

"The seals are intactV Sir Francis shouted, to reassure the watchers,
and they cheered raucously.

"Break the hinges!"  he ordered Big Daniel, and the boatswain went to
it with a will.

Wood splintered and brass screws squealed as they were ripped from
their seats.  The interior of the strong room was lined with sheets of
copper, but Big Daniel's iron bar ripped through the metal and a hum of
delight went up from the spectators as the contents of the compartment
were revealed.

The coin was sewn into thick canvas bags of which there were fifteen.
Daniel dragged them out and stacked them into a cargo net to be hoisted
to the deck.  Next, the ingots of gold bullion were raised.  They were
packed ten at a time into chests of raw, un planed wood on which the
number and weight of the bars had been branded with a red-hot iron.

When Sir Francis climbed up out of the hold he ordered all but two of
the sacks of coin, and all the chests of gold bars, to be carried down
to his own cabin.

"We will divide only these two sacks of coin now," Sir Francis told
them.  "The rest of your share you will receive when we get home to
dear old England."  He stooped over the two remaining canvas sacks of
coin with a dagger in his hand and he slit the stitching.  The men
howled like a pack of wolves as a stream of glinting silver ten-guilder
coins poured onto the planking.

"No need to count it.  The cheese-heads have done that job for us." Sir
Francis pointed out the numbers stencilled on the sacks.  "Each man
will come forward as his name is called," he told them.  With excited
laughter and ribald repartee, the men formed lines.  As each was
called, he shuffled forward with his cap held out, and his share of
silver guilders was doled out to him.

Hal was the only man aboard who drew no part of the booty.  Although he
was entitled to a midshipman's share, one two-hundredth part of the
crew's portion, almost two hundred guilders, his father would take care
of it for him.  "No fool like a boy with silver or gold in his purse,
he had explained reasonably to Hal.  "One day you'll thank me for
saving it for you."  Then he turned with mock fury on his crew.  "Just
because you're rich now, doesn't mean I have no more work for you," he
roared.  "The rest of the heavy cargo must go ashore before we can
beach and careen her and clean her foul bottom and step the new mast
and put the culver ins into her.  There's enough work in that to keep
you busy for a month or two."

No man was ever allowed to remain idle for long in one of Sir Francis's
ships.  Boredom was the most dangerous enemy he would ever encounter.
While one of the watches went ahead with the work of unloading, he kept
the off-duty watches busy.  They must never be, allowed to forget that
this was a fighting ship and that they must be ready at any moment to
face a desperate enemy.

With the hatches open and the huge casks of spice being lifted out,
there was no space on the deck for weapons practice so Big Daniel took
the off-duty men to the beach.  Shoulder to shoulder, they formed ranks
and worked through the manual of arms.  Swinging the cutlass cut to the
left, thrust and recover, cut to the right, thrust and recover until
the sweat streamed from them and they gasped for breath.

"Enough of that!"  Big Daniel told them at last, but they were not to
be released yet.

"A bout or two of wrestling now, just to warm your blood, he shouted,
and strode among them matching man against man, seizing a pair by the
scruff of their necks and thrusting them at each other, as though they
were fighting birds in the cockpit.

Soon the beach was covered with struggling, shouting pairs of men naked
to the waist, heaving and spinning each other off their feet and
rolling in the white sand.

Standing back among the first line of forest trees, Katinka and her
maid watched with interest.  Aboli stood a few paces behind them,
leaning against the trunk of one of the giant forest yellow-woods.

Hal was matched against a seaman twenty years his elder.  They were of
the same height, but the other man was a stone heavier.  Both struggled
for a hold on each other's neck and shoulders as they danced in a
circle, trying to force one another off balance or to hook a heel for a
trip throw.

"Use your hip.  Throw him over your hip!"  Katinka whispered, as she
watched Hal.  She was so carried along by the spectacle that
unconsciously she had clenched her fists and was beating them on her
own thighs in excitement as she urged Hal on, her cheeks pinker than
either the rouge pot or the heat had coloured them.

Katinka loved to watch men or animals pitted against each other.  At
every opportunity, her husband was made to accompany her to the
bull-baiting and the cock-fights or the ratting contests with
terriers.

"Whenever the red wine is poured, my lovely little darling is happy."
Van de Velde was proud of her unusual penchant for blood sport.  She
never missed a tournament of ipie, and had even enjoyed the English
sport of bare fisted fighting.  However, wrestling was one of her
favourite diversions, and she knew all the holds and throws.

Now she was enchanted by the lad's graceful movements and impressed by
his technique.  She could tell that he had been well instructed, for
although his opponent was heavier Hal was quicker and stronger.  He
used his opponent's weight against him, and the older man had to grunt
and thrash around to recover himself as Hal tipped him to the edge of
his balance.  At his next lunge Hal offered no resistance but gave to
his opponent's rush, and went over backwards, still maintaining his
grip.  As he struck the ground, he broke his own fall with an arch to
his back, at the same time thrusting his heels into his opponent's
belly to catapult him overhead.  While the older man lay stunned, Hal
whipped round to straddle his back and pin him face down.  He grabbed
the man's pigtail and forced his face into the fine white sand, until
he slapped the earth with both hands to signal his surrender.

Hal released him and sprang to his feet with the agility of a cat.

The seaman came to his knees gasping and spitting sand.  Then,
unexpectedly, he launched himself at Hal just as he was beginning to
turn away.  From the corner of his eye Hal spotted the swing of the
bunched fist coming at his head and rolled away from the blow, but not
quite quickly enough.  It swiped across his face, bringing a flash of
blood from one nostril.  He seized the man's wrist as he reached the
limit of his swing, twisting his arm and then lifting his wrist up
between his shoulder-blades.  The seaman squealed as he was forced up
on his toes.

St.  "Mary's milk, Master John, but you must like the taste of sand."

Hal placed one bare foot on his backside and sent him sprawling head
first on to the beach once more.

"You grow too clever and cocky, Master Hal!"  Big Daniel strode up to
him, frowning, and his voice was gruff as he tried to hide his delight
at his pupil's performance.  "Next time I'll give you a harder match.
And don't let the captain hear that milky blasphemy of yours or more
than good clean beach sand you'll be tasting yourself."

Still laughing, delighting in Daniel's ill-concealed approbation and in
the hoots of encouragement from the other wrestlers, Hal swaggered to
the lagoon's edge and scooped up a double handful of water to wash the
blood from his upper lip.

"Joseph and Mary, but he loves to win."  Daniel grinned behind his
back.  "Try as he will, Captain Franky will not break that one down.
The old dog has sired a puppy of his own blood."

"How old do you think he is?"  Katinka asked her maid, in a reflective
tone.

"I'm sure I don't know," said Zelda primly.  "He's just a child."

Katinka shook her head, smiling, remembering him standing naked in the
stern of the pinnace.  "Ask our blackamoor watch-dog."

Obediently Zelda looked back at Aboli, and asked in English, "How old
is the boy?"

"Old enough for what she wants from him," Aboli grunted in his own
language, a puzzled frown on his face as he pretended not to
understand.  These last few days, while he guarded her, he had studied
this woman with sun coloured hair.  He had recognized the bright,
predatory glimmer in the depths of those demure violet eyes.  She
watched a man the way a mongoose watches a plump chicken, and she
carried her head in an affectation of innocence that was belied by the
wanton swing of her hips beneath the layers of bright silks and
gossamer lace.  "A whore is still a whore, whatever the colour of her
hair and no matter if she lives in a beehive hut or a governor's
palace."  The deep cadence of his voice was punctuated by the staccato
clicks of his tribal speech.

Zelda turned away from him with a flounce.  "Stupid animal.  He
understands nothing."

Hal left the water's edge and came up into the trees.  He reached up to
the branch on which hung his discarded shirt.  His hair was still wet
and his naked chest and shoulders were blotched red with the rough
contact of the wrestling.  A smear of blood was still streaked across
his cheek.

His hand raised towards his shirt, he looked up.  His eyes met
Katinka's level violet regard.  Until that moment he had been unaware
of her presence.  Instantly his arrogant swagger evaporated, and he
stepped back as though she had slapped him unexpectedly.  Now a dark
blush spread over his face, obliterating the lighter blotches left by
his opponent's blows.

Coolly Katinka looked down at his bare chest.  He folded his arms
across it, as if ashamed.

"You were right, Zelda," she said, with a dismissive flick of her hand.
"Just a grubby child," she added in Latin, to make certain that he
understood.  Hal stared after her miserably as she gathered her skirts
and, followed by Aboli and her maid, sailed regally down the beach to
the waiting pinnace.

That night, as he lay on the lumpy straw pallet on his narrow bunk, he
heard movement, soft voices and laughter from the cabin next door.  He
propped himself up on one elbow.  Then he recalled the insult she had
thrown at him so disdainfully.  "I will not think of her ever again,"
he promised himself, as he sank back onto the pallet and placed his
hands over his ears to block out the lilting cadence of her voice.  In
an attempt to drive her from his mind, he repeated softly, "In Arcadia
habito."  But it was long before weariness allowed him at last to fall
into a deep black dreamless sleep.  The head of the lagoon, almost two
miles from where the Resolution lay at anchor, a stream of clear sweet
water tumbled down through a narrow gorge to mingle with the brackish
waters below.  As the two longboats moved slowly against the current
into the mouth of the gorge, they startled the flocks of water birds
from the shallows into the air.

They rose in a cacophony of honks, quacks and cackles, twenty different
varieties of ducks and geese unlike any they knew from the north.
There were other species, too, with strangely shaped bills or
disproportionately long legs trailing, and herons, curlews and egrets
that were not quite the same as their English counterparts, bigger or
brighter in plumage.  The sky was darkened with their numbers, and the
men rested for a minute upon their oars to gaze in astonishment at
these multitudes.

"It's a land of marvels, Sir Francis murmured, staring up at this wild
display.  "Yet we have explored only a trivial part of it.  What other
wonders lie beyond this threshold, deep in the hinterland, that no man
has ever laid eyes upon?"

His father's words excited Hal's imagination, and conjured up once more
the images of dragons and monsters that decorated the charts he had
studied.

"Heave away!"  his father ordered, and they bent to the long sweeps
again.  The two were alone in the leading boat.  Sir Francis pulled the
starboard oar with a long powerful stroke that matched Hal's
tirelessly.  Between them stood the empty water casks, the refilling of
which was the ostensible purpose of this expedition to the head of the
lagoon.  The real reason, however, lay on the floorboards at Sir
Francis's feet.  During the night Aboli and Big Daniel had carried the
canvas sacks of coin and the chests of gold ingots down from the cabin
and had hidden them under the tarpaulin in the bottom of the boat.  In
the bows they had stacked five kegs of powder and an array of weapons,
captured along with the treasure from the galleon, cutlass, pistol and
musket, and leather bags of lead shot.

Ned Tyler, Big Daniel and Aboli followed closely in the second boat,
the three men in his crew whom Sir Francis trusted above all others.
Their boat, too, was loaded with water casks.

Once they were well into the mouth of the stream, Sir Francis stopped
rowing and leaned over the side to scoop a mugful of water and taste
it.  He nodded with satisfaction.

"Pure and sweet."  He called across to Ned Tyler, "Do you begin to
refill here.  Hal and I will go on upstream."

As Ned steered the boat in towards the riverbank, a wild, booming bark
echoed down the gorge.  They all looked up.  "What are those creatures?
Are they men?"  demanded Ned.  "Some kind of strange hairy dwarfs?"
There was fear and awe in his voice, as he stared up at the ranks of
human-like shapes that lined the edge of the precipice high above
them.

"Apes."  Sir Francis called to him as he rested on his oar.  "Like
those of the Barbary Coast."

Aboli chuckled, then threw back his head and faithfully mimicked the
challenge of the bull baboon that led the pack.  Most of the younger
animals leaped up and nervously skittered along the cliff at the
sound.

The huge bull ape accepted the challenge.  He stood on all fours at the
edge of the precipice, and opened his mouth wide to display a set of
terrible white fangs.  Emboldened by this show, some of the younger
animals returned and began to hurl small stones and debris down upon
them.  The men were forced to duck and dodge the missiles.

"Give them a shot to see them off," Sir Francis ordered.  "It's a long
one."  Daniel unslung his musket and blew on the burning tip of the
slow-match as he raised the butt to his shoulder.  The gorge echoed to
the thunderous blast, and they all burst out laughing at the antics of
the baboon pack, as it panicked at the shot.  The ball knocked a chip
off the lip of the ledge, and the youngsters of the troop somersaulted
backwards with shock.  The mothers seized their offspring, slung them
under their bellies and scrambled up the sheer face, and even the brave
bull abandoned his dignity and joined the rush for safety.  Within
seconds, the cliff was deserted and the sounds of the terror-stricken
retreat dwindled.

Aboli jumped over the side, waist deep into the river, and dragged the
boat onto the bank while Daniel and Ned un stoppered the water casks
to refill them.  In the other boat Sir Francis and Hal bent to the oars
and rowed on upstream.  After half a mile the river narrowed sharply,
and the cliffs on both sides became steeper.  Sir Francis paused to get
his bearings and then turned the longboat in under the cliff and moored
the bows to the stump of a dead tree that sprang from a crack in the
rock.  Leaving Hal in the boat he jumped out onto the narrow ledge
below the cliff and began to climb upwards.  There was no obvious path
to follow but Sir Francis moved confidently from one handhold to
another.  Hal watched him with pride.  in his eyes, his father was an
old man he must have long passed the venerable age of forty years yet
he climbed with strength and agility.  Suddenly, fifty feet above the
river, he reached a ledge invisible from below and shuffled a few paces
along it.  Then he knelt to examine the narrow cleft in the cliff face,
the opening was blocked with neatly packed rocks.  He smiled with
relief when he saw that they were exactly as he had left them many
months previously.  Carefully he pulled them out of the cleft and laid
them aside, until the opening was wide enough for him to crawl
through.

The cave beyond was in darkness but Sir Francis stood up and reached to
a stone shelf above his head where he groped for the flint and steel he
had left there.  He lit the candle he had brought with him, and then
looked around the cave.

Nothing had been touched since his last visit.  Five chests stood
against the back wall.  That was the booty from the Heerlycke Nacht,
mostly silver plate and a hundred thousand guilders in coin that had
been intended for payment of the Dutch garrison in Batavia.  A pile of
gear was stacked beside the entrance, and Sir Francis began work on
this immediately.  It took him almost half an hour to rig the heavy
wooden beam as a gantry from the ledge outside the cave entrance, and
then to lower the tackle to the boat moored below.

"Make the first chest fast!"  he called down to Hal.

Hal tied it on and his father hauled it upwards, the sheave squeaking
at each heave.  The chest disappeared and a few minutes later the rope
end dropped back and dangled where Hal could reach it.  He tied on the
next chest.

It took them well over an hour to hoist all the ingots and the sacks of
coin and stack them in the back of the cave.  Then they started work on
the powder kegs and the bundles of weapons.  The last item to go up was
the smallest.  a box into which Sir Francis had packed a compass and
backstaff, a roll of charts taken from the Standvasdgheid, flint and
steel, a set of surgeon's instruments in a canvas roll, and a selection
of other equipment that could make the difference between survival and
a lingering death to a party stranded on this savage, unexplored
coast.

"Come up, Hal," Sir Francis called down at last, and Hal went up the
cliff with the speed and ease of one of the young baboons.

When Hal reached him, his father was sitting comfortably on the
narrow-ledge, his legs dangling and his clay stemmed pipe and tobacco
pouch in his hands.

"Give me a hand here, lad."  He pointed with his empty pipe at the
vertical crack in the face of the cliff.  "Close that up again."

Hal spent another half-hour packing the loose rock back into the
entrance, to conceal it and to discourage intruders.  There was little
chance of men finding the cache in this deserted gorge, but he and his
father knew that the baboons would return.  They were as curious and
mischievous as any human.

When Hal would have started back down the cliff, Sir Francis stopped
him with a hand on his shoulder.  "There is no hurry.  The others will
not have finished refilling the water casks."

They sat in silence on the ledge while Sir Francis got his
long-stemmed pipe to draw sweetly.  Then he asked, through a cloud of
blue smoke, "What have I done here?"

"Cached our share of the treasure."

"Not only our share alone, but that of the Crown and of every man
aboard, sir Francis corrected him.  "But why have I done that?"

"Gold and silver is temptation even to an honest man."  Hal repeated
the lore his father had drummed into his head so many times before.

"Should I not trust my own crew?"  Sir Francis asked.

"If you trust no man, then no man will ever disappoint you.  "Hal
repeated the lesson.

"Do you believe that?"  Sir Francis turned to watch his face as he
replied, and Hal hesitated.  "Do you trust Aboli?"  "Yes, I trust him,"
Hal admitted, reluctantly, as though it were a sin.

"Aboli is a good man, none better.  But you see that I do not bring
even him to this place."  He paused, then asked, "Do you trust me,
lad?"

"Of course."

"Why?  Surely I am but a man and I have told you to trust no man?"

"Because you are my father and I love you."

Sir Francis's eyes clouded and he made as if to caress Hal's cheek.
Then he sighed, dropped his hand and looked down at the river below.
Hal expected his father to censure his reply, but he did not.  After a
while Sir Francis asked another question.  "What of the other goods I
have cached here?  The powder and weapons and charts and the like.  Why
have I placed those here?"

"Against an uncertain future, Hal replied confidently he had heard the
answer often enough before.  "A wise fox has many exits to his
earth."

Sir Francis nodded.  "All of us who sail in the guerre de course are
always at risk.  One day, those few chests may be worth our very
lives."

His father was silent again as he smoked the last few shreds of tobacco
in the bowl of his pipe.  Then he said softly, "If God is merciful, the
time will come, perhaps not too far in the future, when this war with
the Dutch will end.  Then we will return here and gather up our prize
and sail home to Plymouth.  It has long been my dream to own the manor
of Gainesbury that runs alongside High Weald-" He broke off, as if not
daring to tempt fate with such imagining.  "If harm should befall me,
it is necessary that you should know and remember where I have stored
our winnings.  It will be my legacy to you."

"No harm can ever come your way!"  Hal exclaimed in agitation.  It was
more a plea than a statement of conviction.  He could not imagine an
existence without this towering presence at the centre of it.

"No man is immortal," said Sir Francis softly.  "We all owe God a
death."  This time he allowed his right hand to settle briefly on Hal's
shoulder.  "Come, lad.  We must still fill the water casks in our own
boat before dark."  the longboats crept back down the edge of the
darkening lagoon, Aboli had taken Sir *-AFrancis's place on the rowing
thwart, and now Hal's father sat in the stern, wrapped in a dark
woollen cloak against the evening chill.  His expression was.  remote
and sombre.  Facing aft as he worked one of the long oars, Hal could
study him surreptitiously.

Their conversation at the mouth of the cave had left him troubled with
a presentiment of ill-fortune ahead.

He guessed that since they had anchored in the lagoon his father had
cast his own horoscope.  He had seen the zodiacal chart covered with
arcane notations lying open on his desk in his cabin.  That would
account for his withdrawn and introspective mood.  As Aboli had said,
the stars were his children and he knew their secrets.

Suddenly his father lifted his head and sniffed the cool evening air.
Then his face changed as he studied the forest edge.  No dark thoughts
could absorb him to the point where he was unaware of his
surroundings.

"Aboli, take us in to the bank, if you please."

They turned the boat towards the narrow beach, and the second followed.
After they had all jumped out onto the beach and moored both boats, Sir
Francis gave a quiet order.  "Bring your arms.  Follow me, but
quietly."

He led them into the forest, pushing stealthily through the
undergrowth, until he stepped out suddenly onto a well-used path.  He
glanced back to make certain they were following him, then hurried
along.

Hal was mystified by his father's actions until he smelt a trace of
woodsmoke on the air and noticed for the first time the bluish haze
along the tops of the dense forest trees.  This must have been what had
alerted his father.

Suddenly Sir Francis stepped out into a small clearing in the forest
and stopped.  The four men who were already there had not noticed him.
Two lay like corpses on a battlefield, one still clutching a squat
brown hand-blown bottle in his inert fingers, the other drooling
strings of saliva from the corner of his mouth as he snored.

The second pair were wholly absorbed by the stacks of silver guilders
and the ivory dice lying between them.  One scooped up the dice and
rattled them at his ear before rolling them across the patch of beaten
bare earth.  "Mother of a pig!"  he growled.  "This is not my lucky
day."

"You should not speak unkindly of the dam who gave birth to you," said
Sir Francis softly.  "But the rest of what you say is the truth.  This
is not your lucky day."

They looked up at their captain in horrified disbelief, but made no
attempt to resist or escape as Daniel and Aboli dragged them to their
feet and roped them neck to neck in the manner used by the slavers.

Sir Francis walked over to inspect the still that stood at the far end
of the clearing.  They had used a black iron pot to boil the fermented
mash of old biscuit and peelings, and copper tubing stolen from the
ship's stores for the coil.  He kicked it over and the colourless
spirits flared in the flames of the charcoal brazier on which the pot
stood.  A row of filled bottles, stoppered with wads of leaves, was
laid out beneath a yellow-wood tree.  He picked them up one at a time
and hurled them against the tree-trunk.  As they shattered the
evaporating fumes were pungent enough to make his eyes water.  Then he
walked back to Daniel and Ned, who had kicked the drunks out of their
stupor and had dragged them across the clearing to rope them to the
other captives.

"We'll give them a day to sleep it off, Master Ned.  Then tomorrow, at
the beginning of the afternoon watch, have the ship's company assemble
to witness their punishment."  He glanced at Big Daniel.  "I trust you
can still make your cat whistle, Master Daniel."

"Please, Captain, we meant no harm.  just a little fun."  They tried to
crawl to where he stood, but Aboli dragged them back like dogs on the
leash.

"I will not grudge you your fun," said Sir Francis, "if you do not
grudge me mine."  he carpenter had knocked up a row of four tripods on
the quarterdeck, and the drunkards and gamblers were lashed to them by
wrist and ankle.  Big Daniel walked down the line and ripped their
shirts open from collar to waist, so that their naked backs were
exposed.  They hung helplessly in their bonds like trussed pigs on the
back of a market cart.

"Every man aboard knows full well that I will tolerate no drunkenness
and no gaming, both of which are an offence and abomination in the eyes
of the Lord."  Sir Francis addressed the company, assembled in solemn
ranks in the ship's waist.  "Every man aboard knows the penalty. Fifty
licks of the cat."  He watched their faces.  Fifty strokes of the
knotted leather thongs could cripple a man for life.  A hundred strokes
was a sentence of certain and horrible death.  "They have earned
themselves the full fifty.  However, I remember that these four fools
fought well on this very deck when we captured this vessel.  We still
have some hard fighting ahead of us, and cripples are of no use to me
when the culver ins are smoking and the cutlasses are out."

He paused to watch their faces, and saw the terror of the cat in their
eyes, mixed with relief that it was not them bound to the tripods.
Unlike the captains of many privateers, even some Knights of the Order,
Sir Francis took no pleasure in this punishment.  Yet he did not flinch
from necessity.  He commanded a ship full of tough, unruly men, whom he
had handpicked for their ferocity and who would take any show of
kindness as weakness.

"I am a merciful man," he told them, and somebody in the rear ranks
chuckled derisively.  Sir Francis paused and, with a bleak eye, singled
out the offender.  When the culprit hung his head and shuffled his
feet, he went on smoothly, "But these rascals would test my mercy to
its limits."

He turned to Big Daniel, who stood beside the first tripod.  He was
stripped to the waist and his great muscles bulged in arms and
shoulders.  He had tied back his long greying hair with a strip Of
Cloth, and from his scarred fist the lashes of the cat hung to the
planks of the deck like the serpents of Medusa's head.

"Make it fifteen for each, Master Daniel," Sir Francis ordered, "but
comb your cat well between the strokes."  Unless Daniel's fingers
separated the lashes of the cat after each stroke, the blood would matt
them together and clot them "into a single heavy instrument that would
cut human flesh like a sword, blade.  Even fifteen with an uncombed cat
would strip the meat off a man's back down to the vertebrae of his
spine.

"Fifteen it is, Captain," Daniel acknowledged, and shaking out the whip
to separate the knotted thongs, stepped up to his first victim.  The
man twisted his head to watch him over his shoulder, his expression
blanched with fear.

Daniel raised his arm high and let the lash stream out over his
shoulder then, with a peculiar grace for such a big man, he swung
forward.  The lash whistled like the wind in the leaves of a tall tree
and clapped loudly on bare skin.

"One!"  chanted the crew in unison, as the victim shrieked on a high
note of shock and agony.  The lash left a grotesque pattern over his
back, each red line studded with a row of brighter crimson stars where
the knots had broken the skin.  It looked like the sting from the
venomous tendrils of a Portuguese man-of-war.

Daniel combed out the lash, and the fingers of his left hand were
smeared with bright fresh blood.

Two!"  The watchers counted, and the man shrieked again and writhed in
his bonds, his toes dancing a tattoo of pain on the deck timbers.

"Avast punishment!"  Sir Francis called, as he heard a mild commotion
at the head of the companionway leading down to the cabins in the
stern.  Obediently Daniel lowered the whip, and waited as Sir Francis
strode to the ladder.

Governor van de Velde's plumed Hat appeared above the coaming, followed
by his fat flushed face.  He stood wheezing in the sunlight, mopping
his jowls with a silk handkerchief, and looked about him.  His face
brightened with interest as he saw the men hanging on the row of
tripods.  Ja!  Goed!  I see we are not too late," he said, with
satisfaction.  Close behind him Katinka emerged from the hatch with a
light, eager step, holding her skirts just high enough to reveal satin
slippers embroidered with seed pearls.

"Good morrow, Mijnheer," Sit Francis greeted the Governor with a
perfunctory bow, "there is punishment in progress.  It is an unsuitable
spectacle for a lady of your wife's delicate breeding to witness."

"Truly, Captain," Katinka laughed lightly as she intervened, "I am not
a child.  Heaven knows, there is a great paucity of diversion aboard
this ship.  just think, you would collect no ransom if I were to die of
boredom."  She tapped Sir Francis's arm with her fan, but he pulled
away from this condescending touch, and spoke again to her husband.

"Mijnheer, I think you should escort your wife to her quarters."

Katinka stepped between them as though he had not spoken, and beckoned
Zelda who followed her.  "Place my stool there in the shade."  She
spread out her skirts as she settled herself on the stool and pouted
prettily at Sir Francis.  "I will be so quiet that you will not even
know that I am here."

Sir Francis glared at the Governor, but van de Velde spread his pudgy
hands in a theatrical gesture of helplessness.  "You know how it is,
Mijnheer, when a beautiful woman sets her heart on something."  He
moved up behind Katinka and placed a proud and indulgent hand on her
shoulder.

"I cannot be responsible for your wife's sensibilities, if they should
be offended by the spectacle," Sir Francis warned grimly, relieved at
least that his men could not understand this exchange in Dutch and be
aware that he had bowed to pressure from his captives.

"I think you need not trouble yourself too deeply.  My wife has a
strong stomach," van de Velde murmured.  During their tour of duty in
Kandy and Trincomalee his wife had never missed the executions that
were carried out regularly on the parade ground of the fort.  Depending
on the nature of the offence these punishments had ranged from burning
at the stake to branding, gar rotting and beheading.  Even on those
days when she had been suffering the break-bone pains of dengue fever
and, in accordance with her doctor's orders, should have remained in
bed, her carriage had always been parked in its accustomed place
overlooking the scaffold.

"Then it shall be at your own responsibility, Mijnheer."  Sir Francis
nodded curtly, and turned back to Daniel.  "Proceed with the
punishment, Master Daniel," he ordered.  Daniel threw back the whip,
high behind his shoulder, and the coloured.  tattoos that decorated his
great biceps rippled with a life of their own.

"Three!"  yelled the crew, as the lash sang and snapped.  Katinka
stiffened, and leaned forward slightly on her stool.

"Four!"  She started at the crack of the cat and the high scream of
pain that followed it.  Slowly her face turned pale as candle tallow.

"Five!"  Thin snakes of -scarlet crawled down the man's back and soaked
into the waistband of his canvas petticoat.  Katinka let her long
golden eyelashes droop half closed to hide the gleam in her violet
eyes.

"Six!"  Katinka felt a tiny drop of liquid strike her, like a single
spot of warm tropical rain.  She tore her eyes from the wriggling,
moaning body on the tripod, and looked down at her graceful hand.

A drop of blood, flung from the sodden lash, had landed on her
forefinger.  Like a ruby set in a precious ring it sparkled against her
white skin.  She cupped her other hand over it, hiding it in her lap
while she glanced around at the faces that surrounded her.  Every eye
was fixed in total fascination upon the gruesome spectacle in front of
them.  No one had seen the blood splash her.  No.  one was watching her
now.

She lifted her hand to her full soft lips as though in an involuntary
gesture of dismay.  The pink tip of her tongue darted out and dabbed
away the droplet from her finger.

She savoured its metallic salt taste.  It reminded her of a lover's
sperm, and she felt the viscous wetness welling up between her legs, so
that when she rubbed her thighs together they slid against each other,
slippery as mating eels.

There would be a need for lodgings on shore while the Resolution was
careened on the beach, her hull cleaned of weed and examined for any
sign of shipworm.

Sir Francis put Hal in charge of building the compound that was to
accommodate their hostages.  Hal took particular care over the hut that
would house the Governor's wife, making it spacious and comfortable and
siting it for privacy and security from wild animals.  Then he had his
men build a stockade of thorn branches around the entire prison
compound.

When darkness brought the first day's work to a halt, he went down to
the beach of the lagoon and soaked himself in the warm, brackish
waters.  Then he scrubbed his body with handfuls of wet sand until his
skin tingled.  Yet he still felt sullied by the memory of the floggings
he had been forced to watch that morning.  Only when he smelt the
tantalizing odour of hot biscuit floating across the water from the
ship's galley did his mood change, and he thrust his legs into his
breeches and ran down the beach to scramble into the pinnace as it
pulled away from the shore.

While he had been ashore his father had written on the slate a series
of navigational problems for him to solve.  He tucked it under his arm,
grabbed a pewter mug of small beer, a bowl of fish stew and, holding a
hot biscuit between his teeth, darted down the ladder to his cabin, the
only place on the ship where he could be alone to concentrate on his
task.

Suddenly he looked up as he heard water being poured in the cabin next
door.  He had noticed the buckets of fresh river water standing over
the charcoal fire in the galley and laughed when the cook had
complained bitterly that his fire was being used to heat water to bathe
in.  Now Hal knew for whom those steaming pails had been prepared.
Zelda's guttural tones carried to him through the panel as she
harangued Oliver, his father's servant.  Oliver's reply was truculent.
"I don't understand a word you say, you grisly old bitch.  But if you
don't like it you can fill the sodding bath yerself."

Hal grinned to himself, half with amusement and half in anticipation,
as he blew out his lamp and knelt to remove the wooden plug from his
peephole.  He saw that the cabin was filled with clouds of steam, which
frosted the mirror on the far bulkhead so that his view was restricted.
Zelda was shooing Oliver from the cabin as Hal adjusted his eye to the
aperture.

"All right, you old trull!"  Oliver baited her, as he lugged the empty
buckets from the cabin.  "There's nothing you've got that would keep me
here a minute longer."

When Oliver was gone, Zelda went through into the main cabin and Hal
heard her speaking to her mistress.  A minute later she ushered Katinka
through the doorway.  Katinka paused beside the steaming bath and
dabbled her fingers in the water.  She exclaimed sharply and jerked
away her hand.  Zelda hurried forward, apologizing, and poured cold
water from the bucket that stood beside the bath.  Katinka tested the
temperature again.  This time she nodded with satisfaction, and went to
sit on the stool.  Zelda came up behind her, lifted the splendid
shimmering bundle of her hair with both hands to pile it on top of her
head and pinned it there, like a sheaf of ripe wheat.

Katinka leaned forward and, with her fingertips, wiped a small clear
window in the clouded surface of the mirror.  She examined the vignette
of herself in this clear spot.  She thrust out her tongue to examine it
for any trace of white coating.  It was pink as a rose petal.  Then
she opened her eyes wide and peered into their depths, touching the
skin beneath them with her fingertips.  "Look at these horrid
wrinkles!"  she lamented.

Zelda denied it vehemently.  "Not a single one!"

"I never want to grow old and ugly."  Katinka's expression was
tragic.

"Then you had best die now!"  said Zelda.  "That's the only way you'll
avoid it."

"What a terrible thing to say.  You are so cruel to me," Katinka
complained.

Hal could not understand what they said but the tone of her voice
touched him to the depths of his being.

"Come now," Zelda chided her.  "You know you're beautiful."

"Am I, Zelda?  Do you really think so?"

"Yes.  And so do you."  Zelda lifted her to her feet.  "But if you
don't bathe now, you will stink just as beautifully."

She unfastened her mistress's gown, then moved behind her, lifted the
gown from her shoulders and Katinka stood naked before the mirror.
Hal's involuntary gasp was muffled by the panel and the small sounds of
the ship's hull.

From that slender neck down to her tiny ankles Katinka's body formed a
line of heartbreaking purity.  Her buttocks swelled out into two
perfectly symmetrical orbs, like a pair of the ostrich eggs Hal had
seen offered for sale in the markets of Zanzibar.  But there were
childish, vulnerable dimples at the back of her knees.

Katinka's own image in the clouded mirror was ethereal and could not
hold her attention for long.  She turned away from it and stood facing
him.  Hal's gaze flew to her breasts.  They were large for her narrow
shoulders.  Each would have filled his cupped hands, yet they were not
perfectly round as he had expected them to be.

Hal stared at them until his eye watered and he was forced at last to
blink.  Then he let his gaze sink down, over the slight but enthralling
bulge of her belly, and onto the misty cloud of fine curls that nestled
between her thighs.  The lamp-light struck them and they sparked purest
gold.

She stood a long time thus, longer than he had dared hope she might,
staring down into the bath while Zelda poured perfumed oil from a
crystal bottle into the water, and then knelt to stir it with her hand.
Katinka continued to stand, her weight on one leg so that her pelvis
was tilted at an enchanting angle, and there was a small sly smile on
her lips as she reached up slowly and took one of her nipples between
thumb and forefinger.  For a moment Hal thought she stared directly at
him, and he began to pull away guiltily from his peep-hole.

Then he knew that it was an illusion for she dropped her eyes and
looked down at the fat little berry that poked out rosily between her
fingers.

She rolled it softly back and forth, and while Hal stared in amazement
it changed colour and shape.  It swelled and hardened and darkened.  He
had never imagined anything quite like this a little miracle that
should have filled him with reverence but instead tore at his loins
with the claws of lust.

Zelda looked up from the bath she was mixing and, when she saw what her
mistress was doing, snapped a prim reprimand.  Katinka laughed and
stuck out her tongue, but dropped her hand and stepped into the bath.
With a luxurious sigh she sank into the hot, perfumed water, until only
the thick coil of golden hair on top of her head showed above the rim
of the bath.

Zelda fussed over her, lathering soap on a flannel, wiping and washing,
murmuring endearments and cackling at her mistress's replies.  Suddenly
she rocked back on her heels and gave another instruction, in response
to which Katinka stood up and the soapy water cascaded down her body.
Her back was turned to Hal, and now the rounds of her bottom glowed
pinkly from the hot water.  At Zelda's instructions she moved
compliantly to allow the old woman to soap down each leg in turn.

At last Zelda climbed stiffly to her feet and shuffled out of the
cabin.  As soon as she was gone Katinka, still standing in the bath,
glanced over her shoulder.  Again, Hal had the guilty illusion that she
was looking directly into his own staring eye.  It was only for a
moment, then slowly and voluptuously she bent.  Her buttocks changed
shape at the movement.  Katinka reached behind herself with both
hands.

She laid those small white hands on each of her glowing pink buttocks
and drew them gently apart.  This time Hal could not choke back the
little abandoned cry that rose to his lips as the deep crease of her
bottom opened to his feverish gaze.

Zelda bustled back into the cabin bearing an armful of towels.  Katinka
straightened and the enchanted crevice closed firmly, its secrets
hidden once more from his eyes.  She stepped from the bath and Zelda
draped a towel over her shoulders that hung to her ankles.  Zelda
loosened the coil of her mistress's hair and brushed it out, and then
braided it into a thick golden rope.  She stood behind Katinka and held
a gown for her to slip her arms into the sleeves, but Katinka shook her
head and gave a peremptory order.  Zelda protested but Katinka insisted
and the maid threw the gown over the stool and left the cabin in an
obvious pet.

When she was gone Katinka let the towel drop to the deck and, naked
once more, crossed to the door and slid the locking bolt into place.
Then she turned back and passed out of Hal's sight.

He saw a fuzzy pink blur of movement in the clouded mirror but could
not be sure what she was doing until, abruptly and shockingly, her lips
were an inch from the opposite side of his peep-hole and she hissed
viciously at him, "You filthy little Pirate!"  She spoke in Latin, and
he recoiled as though she had flung a kettle of boiling water into his
face.

Even in his confusion, though, the taunt had stung him to the quick,
and he answered her, without thinking, "I am not a pirate.  My father
carries Letters of Marque."

"Don't you dare to contradict me."  Confusingly she was switching
between Latin, Dutch and English.  But her tone was sharp and stinging
as a scourge.

Again he was stung into a reply.  "I did not mean to offend you."

"When my noble husband finds out that you have been spying on me, he
will go to your pirate father, and they will have you flogged on the
tripod like those other men this morning."

"I was not spying on you, -" "Liar!"  She would not let him finish.
"You dirty lying pirate."  For a moment she had run out of breath and
insults.  "I only wanted to, -" Her fury was recharged.  "I know what
you wanted.  You wanted to look at my katjie, -" he knew that was the
Dutch word for kitten " and then you wanted to take your cock in your
hand and pull it, -" "NoV Hal almost shouted.  How had she known his
shameful secret?  He felt sick and mortified.

"Quiet!  Zelda will hear you," she hissed again.  "If they catch you it
will be the lash."

"Please!"  he whispered back.  "I meant no harm.  Please forgive me.

I did not mean it."

"Then show me.  Prove your innocence.  Show me your cock."

"I can't.  "His voice quivered with shame.

"Stand up!  Put it here next to the hole so I can see if you are
lying."

"No.  Please don't make me do that."

"Quickly or I -will scream for my husband to come."  Slowly he came to
his feet.  The peep-hole was at almost exactly the same level as his
aching crotch.

"Now, show me.  Open your breeches, her voice goaded him.

Slowly, consumed by shame and embarrassment he lifted the canvas skirt,
and before it was fully raised his penis jumped out like the springy
branch of a sapling.  He knew she must be nauseated and speechless with
disgust to see such a thing.  After a minute of thick, charged silence
that seemed the longest in his life, he began to lower his skirt over
himself.

Instantly she stopped him in a voice that seemed to him to tremble with
revulsion, so that he could hardly understand her distorted English
words.

"No!  Do not seek to cover your shame.  This thing of yours condemns
you.  Do you still pretend you are guiltless?"  "No,"he admitted
miserably.

"Then you must be punished," she told him.  "I must tell your
father."

"Please don't do that," he pleaded.  "He would kill me with his own
hands."

"Very well.  I shall have to punish you myself.  Bring your cock
closer."

Obediently he pushed his hips forward.  "Closer, so I can reach it.
Closer."

He felt the tip of his distended penis touch the rough wood that
surrounded the peep-hole, and then shockingly cool soft fingers closed
over the tip.  He tried to pull away, but her grip tightened and her
voice was sharp.  "Stay still!"

Katinka knelt at the bulkhead and threaded his glans through the
opening, then eased it out into the lamp-light.  It was so swollen that
it could barely fit through the hole.

"No, do not pull away," she told him, making her voice stern and angry,
as she took a firmer grip upon him.  Obediently he relaxed and gave
himself over to the insistent pressure of her fingers, allowing her to
draw his full length through the opening.

She gazed at it, fascinated.  At his age she had not expected him to be
so large.  The engorged head was the glossy purple of a ripe plum.  She
drew the loose prepuce over it, like a monk's cowl, and then pulled
back the skin again as far it would go.  The head seemed to swell
harder as though on the point of bursting, and she felt the shaft jump
in her hands.

She repeated the movement, slowly forward and then back again, and
heard him groan beyond the panel.  It was strange but she had almost
forgotten the boy.  This mannikin she held in her hands had a life and
existence of its own.

"This is your punishment, you dirty, shameless boy."

She could hear his fingernails scratching at the wood, as her hand
began to fly back and forth along the full length of him as though she
were working the shuttle of a weaver's loom.

It happened sooner than she had expected.  The hot glutinous spurting
against her sensitive breasts was so powerful that it startled her, but
she did not pull away.

After a time, she said, "Do not think that I have forgiven you yet for
what you have done to me.  Your penitence has only just begun.  Do you
understand?"

"Yes."  His voice was ragged and hoarse.

"You must make a secret opening in this wall."  She tapped the bulkhead
softly with her knuckle.  "Loosen this panel so that you can come
through to me, and I can punish you more severely.  Do you understandT
"Yes, he panted.

"You must conceal the opening.  No one else must know."

"It is my observation," Sir Francis told Hal, "that filth and sickness
have a peculiar affinity, one for the other.  I know not why this
should be, but it is so."

He was responding to his son's cautious enquiry as to why it was
necessary to go through the onerous and odious business of fumigating
the ship.  With all the cargo out of her and most of the crew billeted
ashore Sir Francis was determined to try to rid the hull of vermin.  It
seemed that every crack in the woodwork swarmed with lice, and the
holds were overrun with rats.  The galley was littered with the black
pellets of their droppings, and Ned Tyler had reported finding some of
the stinking bloated carcasses rotting in the water casks.

Since the day of their arrival in the lagoon a shore party had been
burning cordwood and leaching the ashes to obtain the lye, and Sir
Francis had sent Aboli into the forest to search for those special
herbs that his tribe used to keep their huts clear of the loathsome
vermin.  Now a party of seamen waited on the foredeck, armed with
buckets of the caustic substance.

"I want every crack and joint of the hull scrubbed out, but be
careful," Sir Francis warned them.  "The corrosive fluid will burn the
skin from your hands-" He broke off abruptly.  Every head on board
turned towards the distant rocky heads, and every man upon the beach
paused in what he was doing and cocked his head to listen.

The flat boom of a cannon shot echoed from the cliffs at the entrance
to the lagoon and reverberated across the still waters of the wide
bay.

"It's the alarm signal from the lookout on the heads, Captain," shouted
Ned Tyler, and pointed across the water to where a puff of white
gunsmoke still hung over one of the emplacements that guarded the
entrance.  As they stared, a tiny black ball soared to the top of the
makeshift flag-pole on the crest of the western headland then unfurled
into a red swallow-tail.  It was the general alarm signal, and could
only mean that a strange sail was in sight.

"Beat to quarters, Master Daniel!"  Sir Francis ordered crisply.
"Unlock the weapons chests and arm the crew.  I am going across to the
entrance.  Four men to row the longboat and the rest take up their
battle stations ashore."

Although his face remained expressionless, inwardly he was furious that
he should have allowed himself to be surprised like this, with the
masts un stepped and all the cannon out of the hull.  He turned to Ned
Tyler.  "I want the prisoners taken ashore and placed under your
strictest guard, well away from the beach.  If they learn that there is
a strange ship off the coast, it might give them the notion to try to
attract attention."

Oliver rushed up the companionway with Sir Francis's cloak over his
arm.  While he spread it over his master's shoulders, Sir Francis
finished issuing his orders.  Then he turned and strode to the entry
port where the longboat lay alongside and Hal was waiting, where his
father could not ignore him, fretting that he might not be ordered to
join him.

"Very well, then," Sir Francis snapped.  "Come with me.  I might have
need of those eyes of yours."  And Hal slid down the mooring line
ahead, and cast off the moment his father stepped into the boat.

"Pull till you burst your guts!"  Sir Francis told the men at the oars
and the boat skittered across the lagoon.  Sir Francis sprang over the
side and waded ashore below the cliff with the water slopping over the
tops of his high boots.  Hal had to run to catch up with him on the
elephant path.

They came out on the top, three hundred feet above the lagoon, looking
out over the ocean.  Although the wind that buffeted them on the
heights had kicked the sea into a welter of breaking waves, Hal's sharp
eyes picked out the brighter flecks that persisted among the ephemeral
whitecaps ever before the lookout could point them out to him.

Sir Francis stared through his telescope.  "What do you make of her?
"he demanded of Hal.

"There are two ships," Hal told him.

"I see but one no, wait!  You are right.  There is another, a little
further to the east.  Is she a frigate, do you think?"  "Three masts,"
Hal shaded his eyes, "and full rigged.  Yes, I'd say she's a frigate.
The other vessel is too far off.  I cannot tell her type."  It pained
Hal to admit it, and he strained his eyes for some other detail.  "Both
ships are standing in directly towards us."

"If they are intending to head for Good Hope, then they must go about
very soon," Sir Francis murmured, never lowering the telescope.  They
watched anxiously.

"They could be a pair of Dutch East Indiamen still making their we
stings Hal hazarded hopefully.

"Then why are they pushing so close into a lee shore?"  Sir Francis
asked.  "No, it looks very much as though they are headed straight for
the entrance."  He snapped the telescope closed.  "Come along!"  At a
trot he led the way back down the path to where the longboat waited on
the beach.  "Master Daniel, row across to the batteries on the far
side.  Take command there.  Do not open fire until I do They watched
the longboat move swiftly over the lagoon and Daniel's men drag it into
a narrow cove where it was concealed from view.  Then Sir Francis
strode along the gun emplacements in the cliff and gave a curt set of
orders to the men who crouched over the culver ins with the burning
slow-match.

"At my command, fire on the leading ship.  One salvo of round shot," he
told them.  "Aim at the waterline.  Then load with chain shot and bring
down their rigging.  They'll not want to try manoeuvring in these
confined channels with half their sails shot away."  He jumped up onto
the parapet of the emplacement and stared out at the sea through the
narrow entrance, but the approaching vessels were still hidden from
view by the rocky cliffs.

Suddenly, from around the western point of the heads, a ship with all
sail set drew into view.  She was less than two miles offshore, and
even as they watched in consternation she altered course, and trimmed
her yards around, heading directly for the entrance.

"Their guns are run out, so it's a fight they're looking for, said Sir
Francis grimly, as he sprang down from the wall.  "And we shall give it
to them, lads."

"No, Father," Hal cried.  "I know that ship."

"Who-" Before Sir Francis could ask the question, he was given the
answer.  From the vessel's maintop a long swallow-tailed banner
unfurled.  Scarlet and snowy white, it whipped and snapped on the
wind.

"The croix paudeP Hal called.  "It's the Gull of Moray.  It's Lord
Cumbrae, Father!"

"By God, so it is.  How did that red-bearded butcher know we were
here?"

Astern of the Gull of Moray the strange ship hove into view.  It also
trained its yards around, and in succession altered its heading,
following the Buzzard as he stood in towards the entrance.

"I know that ship also," Hal shouted, on the wind.  "There, now!  I can
even recognize her figurehead.  She's the Goddess.  I know of no other
ship on this ocean with a naked Venus at her bowsprit."

"Captain Richard Lister, it is," Sir Francis agreed.  "I feel easier
for having him here.  He's a good man though, God knows, I trust
neither of them all the way."

As the Buzzard came sailing in down the channel past the gun
emplacements, he must have picked out the bright spot of Sir Francis's
cloak against the lichen covered rocks, for he dipped his standard in
salute.

Sir Francis lifted his Hat in acknowledgement, but grated between his
teeth, "I'd rather salute you with a bouquet of grape, you Scottish
bastard.  You've smelt the spoils, have you?  You're come to beg or
steal, is that it?  But how did you know?"

"Father!"  Hal shouted again.  "Look there, in the futtock shrouds I'd
know that grinning rogue anywhere.  That's how they knew.  He led them
here."

Sir Francis swivelled his glass.  "Sam Bowles.  It seems that even the
sharks could not stomach that piece of carrion.  I should have let his
shipmates deal with him while we had the chance."

The Gull moved slowly past them, reducing sail progressively, as she
threaded her way deeper into the lagoon.  The Goddess followed her, at
a cautious distance.  She also flew the croix pott6e at her masthead,
along with the cross of St.  George and the Union flag.  Richard Lister
was also a Knight of the Order.  They picked out his diminutive figure
on his quarterdeck as he came to the rail and shouted something across
the water that was jumbled by the wind.

"You are keeping strange company, Richard."  Even though the Welshman
could not hear him, Sir Francis waved his Hat in reply.  Lister had
been with him when they captured the Heerlycke Nacht, they had shared
the spoils amicably, and he counted him a friend.  Lister should have
been with them, Sir Francis and the Buzzard while they spent those
dreary months on blockade off Cape Agulhas.  However, he had missed the
rendezvous in Port Louis on the island of Mauritius.  After waiting a
month for him to appear, Sir Francis had been obliged to accede to the
Buzzard's demands, and they had sailed without him.

"Well, we'd best put on a brave face, and go to greet our uninvited
guests," Sir Francis told Hal, and went down to the beach as Daniel
brought the longboat across the channel between the heads.

As they rowed back up the lagoon the two newly arrived vessels lay at
anchor in the main channel.  The Gull of Moray was only half a cable's
length astern of the Resolution.  Sir Francis ordered Daniel to steer
directly to the Goddess.  Richard Lister was at the entry port to greet
him as he and Hal came aboard.

"Flames of hell, Franky.  I heard the word that you had taken a great
prize from the Dutch.  Now I see her lying there at anchor."  Richard
seized his hand.  He did not quite stand as tall as Sir Francis's
shoulder but his grip was powerful.  He sniffed the air with the great
florid bell of his nose, and went on, in his singing Celtic lilt, "And
is that not spice I smell on the air?  I curse me self for not having
found you at Port Louis."

"Where were you, Richard?  I waited thirty-two days for you to
arrive."

"It grieves me to have to admit it but I ran full tilt into a hurricane
just south of Mauritius.  Dismasted me and blew me clear across to the
coast of St.  Lawrence Island."

"That would be the same storm that dismasted the Dutchman."  Sir
Francis pointed across the channel at the galleon.  "She was
under-jury-rig when we captured her.  But how did you fall in with the
Buzzard?"

"I thought that as soon as the Goddess was fit for sea again I would
look for you off Cape Agulhas, on the off chance that you were still on
station there.  That's when I came across him.  He led me here."

"Well, it's good to see you, my old friend.  But, tell me, do you have
any news from home?"  Sir Francis leaned forward eagerly.  This was
always one of the foremost questions men asked each other when they met
out here beyond the Line.  They might voyage to the furthest ends of
the uncharted seas, but always their hearts yearned for home.  Almost a
year had passed since Sir Francis had received news from England.

At the question, Richard Lister's expression turned sombre.  "Five days
after I sailed from Port Louis I fell in with Windsong, one of His
Majesty's frigates.  She was fifty six days out from Plymouth, bound
for the Coromandel coast."

"So what news did she have?"  Sir Francis interrupted impatiently.

"None good, as the Lord is my witness.  They say that all of England
was struck by the plague, and that men, women and children died in
their thousands and tens of thousands, so they could not bury them fast
enough and the bodies lay rotting and stinking in the streets."

"The plague!"  Sir Francis crossed himself in horror.  "The wrath of
God."

"Then while the plague still raged through every town and village,
London was destroyed by a mighty fire.  They say that the flames left
hardly a house standing."

Sir Francis stared at him in dismay.  "London burned?  It cannot be!
The King is he safe?  Was it the Dutch that put the torch to London?
Tell me more, man, tell me more."

"Yes, the Black Boy is safe.  But no, this time it was not the Dutch to
blame.  The fire was started by a baker's oven in Pudding Lane and it
burned for three days without check.  St.  Paul's Cathedral is burned
to the ground and the Guildhall, the Royal Exchange, one hundred parish
churches and God alone knows what else besides.  They say that the
damage will exceed ten million pounds."

"Ten millions!"  Sir Francis stared at him aghast.  "Not even the
richest monarch in the world could rise to such an amount.  Why,
Richard, the total Crown revenues for a year are less than one
million!

It must beggar the King and the nation."

Richard Lister shook his head with gloomy relish.  "There's more bad
news besides.  The Dutch have given us a mighty pounding.  That devil,
de Ruyter, sailed right into the Medway and the Thames.  We lost
sixteen ships of the line to him, and he captured the Royal Charles at
her moorings in Greenwich docks and towed her away to Amsterdam."

"The flagship, the flower and pride of our fleet.  Can England survive
such a defeat, coming as it does so close upon the heels of the plague
and the fire?"

Lister shook his head again.  "They say the King is suing for peace
with the Dutch.  The war might be over at this very moment.  It may
have ended months ago, for all we know."

"Let us pray most fervently that is not so."  Sir Francis looked across
at the Resolution.  "I took that prize barely three weeks past.  If the
war was over then, my commission from the Crown would have expired.  My
capture might be construed as an act of piracy."

"The fortunes of war, Franky.  You had no knowledge of the peace.
There is none but the Dutch will blame you for that."  Richard Lister
pointed with his inflamed trumpet of a nose across the channel at the
Gull of Moray.  "It seems that my lord Cumbrae feels slighted at being
excluded from this reunion.  See, he comes to join us."

The Buzzard had just launched a boat.  It was being rowed down the
channel now towards them, Cumbrae himself standing in the stern.  The
boat bumped against the Goddess's side and the Buzzard came scrambling
up the rope ladder onto her deck.

"Franky!"  he greeted Sir Francis.  "Since we parted, I have not let a
single day go past without a prayer for you."  He came striding across
the deck, his plaid swinging.  "And my prayers were heard.  That's a
bonny wee galleon we have there, and filled to the gunwales with spice
and silver, so I hear."

"You should have waited a day or two longer, before you deserted your
station.  You might have had a share of her."  The Buzzard spread his
hands in amazement.  "But, my dear Franky, what's this you're telling
me?  I never left my station.  I took a short swing into the east, to
make certain the Dutchies weren't trying to give us the slip by
standing further out to sea.  I hurried back to you just as soon as I
could.  By then you were gone."

"Let me remind you of your own words, sir.  "I am completely out of
patience.  Sixty-five days are enough for me and my brave fellows?"
"My words, Franky?"  The Buzzard shook his head, "Your ears must have
played you false.  The wind tricked you, you did not hear me fairly."

Sir Francis laughed lightly.  "You waste your talent as Scotland's
greatest liar.  There is no one here for you to amaze.  Both Richard
and I know you too well."

"Franky, I hope this does not mean you would try to cheat me out of my
fair share of the spoils?"  He contrived to look both sorrowful and
incredulous.  "I agree that I was not in sight of the capture, and I
would not expect a full half share.  Give me a third and I will not
quibble."

"Take a deep breath, sir."  Sir Francis laid his hand casually on the
hilt of his sword.  "That whiff of spice is all the share you'll get
from me."

The Buzzard cheered up miraculously and gave a huge, booming laugh.
"Franky, my old and dear comrade in arms.  Come and dine on board my
ship this evening, and we can discuss your lad's initiation into the
Order over a dram of good Highland whisky."

"So it's Hal's initiation that brings you back to see me, is it?  Not
the silver and spice?"

"I know how much the lad means to you, Franky to us all.  He's a great
credit to you.  We all want him to become a Knight of the Order.  You
have spoken of it often.  Isn't that the truth?"

Sir Francis glanced at his son, and nodded almost imperceptibly.

"Well, then, you'll not get a chance like this again in many a year.
Here we are, three Nautonnier Knights together.  That's the least
number it takes to admit an acolyte to the first degree.  When will you
find another three Knights to make up a Lodge, out here beyond the
Line?"

"How thoughtful of you, sir."  And, of course, this has no bearing on a
share of my booty that you were claiming but a minute ago?  "Sir
Francis's tone dripped with irony.

"We'll not speak about that again.  You're an honest man, Franky.  Hard
but fair.  You'd never cheat a brother Knight, would you?"

Sir Francis returned long before the midnight watch from dining with
Lord Cumbrae aboard S the Gull of Moray.  As soon as he was in his
cabin he sent Oliver to summon Hal.

"On the coming Sunday.  Three days from now.  In the forest," he told
his son.  "It is arranged.  We will open the Lodge at moonrise, a
little after two bells in the second dog watch."

"But the Buzzard," Hal protested.  "You do not like or trust him.  He
let us down, -" "And yet Cumbrae was right.  We might never have three
knights gathered together again until we return to England.  I must
take this opportunity to see you safely ensconced within the Order.
The good Lord knows there might not be another chance."

"We will leave ourselves at his mercy while we are ashore," Hal warned.
"He might play us foul."

Sir Francis shook his head.  "We will never leave ourselves at the
mercy of the Buzzard, have no fear of that."  He stood up and went to
his sea-chest.

"I have prepared against the day of your initiation."  He lifted the
lid.  "Here is your uniform."  He came across the cabin with a bundle
in his hands and dropped it on his bunk.  "Put it on.  We will make
certain that it fits you."  He raised his voice and shouted,
"Oliver!"

His servant came at once with his housewife tucked under his arm.

Hal stripped off his old worn canvas jacket and petticoats and, with
Oliver's help, began to don the ceremonial uniform of the Order.  He
had never dreamed of owning such splendid clothing.

The stockings were of white silk and his breeches and doublet of
midnight-blue satin, the sleeves slashed with gold.  His shoes had
buckles of heavy silver and the polished black leather matched that of
his cross belt.  Oliver combed out his thick tangled locks, then placed
the Cavalier officer's Hat on his head.  He had picked the finest
ostrich feathers in the market of Zanzibar to decorate the wide brim.

When he was dressed, Oliver circled Hal critically, his head on one
side, "Tight on the shoulders, Sir Francis.  Master Hal grows wider
each day.  But it will take only a blink of your eye to fix that."

Sir Francis nodded, and reached again into the chest.  Hal's heart
leaped as he saw the folded cloak in his father's hands.  It was the
symbol of the Knighthood he had studied so hard to attain.  Sir Francis
came to him and spread it over his shoulders, then fastened the clasp
at his throat.  The folds of white hung to his knees and the crimson
cross bestrode his shoulders.

Sir Francis stood back and scrutinized Hal carefully.  "It lacks but
one detail, "he grunted, and returned to the chest.  From it he brought
out a sword, but no ordinary sword.  Hal knew it well.  It was a
Courtney family heirloom, but still its magnificence awed him.  As his
father brought it to where he stood, he recited to Hal its history and
provenance one more time.  "This blade belonged to Charles Courtney,
your great-grandfather.  Eighty years ago, it was awarded to him by Sir
Francis Drake himself for his part in the capture and sack of the port
of Rancheria on the Spanish Main.  This sword was surrendered to Drake
by the Spanish governor, Don Francisco Manso."

He held out the scabbard of chased gold and silver for Hal to examine.
It was decorated with crowns and dolphins and sea sprites gathered
around the heroic figure of Neptune enthroned.  Sir Francis reversed
the weapon and offered Hal the hilt.  A large star sapphire was set in
the pommel.  Hal drew the blade and saw at once that this was not just
the ornament of some Spanish fop.  The blade was of the finest Toledo
steel inlaid with gold.  He flexed it between his fingers, and rejoiced
in its spring and temper.

"Have a care," his father warned him.  "You can shave with that
edge."

Hal returned it to its scabbard and his father slipped the sword into
the leather bucket of Hal's cross belt, then stood back again to
examine him critically.  "What do you think of him?  "he asked
Oliver.

"Just the shoulders."  Oliver ran his hands over the satin of the
doublet.  "It's all that wrestling and sword-play that changes his
shape.  I shall have to resew the seams."

"Then take him to his cabin and see to it."  Sir Francis dismissed them
both and turned back to his desk.  He sat and opened his leather-bound
log-book.

Hal paused in the doorway.  "Thank you, Father.  This sword-" He
touched the sapphire pommel at his side, but could not find words to
continue.  Sir Francis grunted without looking up, dipped his quill and
began to write on the parchment page.  Hal lingered a little longer in
the entrance until his father looked up again in irritation.  He backed
out and shut the door softly.  As he turned into the passage, the door
opposite opened and the Dutch Governor's wife came through it so
swiftly, in a swirl of silks, that they almost collided.

Hal jumped aside and swept the plumed Hat from his head.  "Forgive me,
madam."

Katinka stopped and faced him.  She examined him slowly, from the
gleaming silver buckles of his new shoes upwards.  When she reached
his eyes she stared into them coolly and said softly, "A pirate whelp
dressed like a great nobleman."  Then, suddenly, she leaned towards him
until her face almost touched his and whispered, "I have checked the
panel.  There is no opening.  You have not performed the task I set
you."

"My duties have kept me ashore.  I have had no chance."  He stammered
as he found the Latin words.

"See to it this very night," she ordered, and swept by him.  Her
perfume lingered and the velvet doublet seemed too hot and
constricting.  He felt sweat break out on his chest.

Oliver fussed over the fit of his doublet for what seemed to Hal half
the rest of the night.  He unpicked and re sewed the shoulder seams
twice before he was satisfied and Hal fumed with impatience.

When at last he left, taking all Hal's newly acquired finery with him,
Hal could barely wait to set the locking bar across his door, and kneel
at the bulkhead.  He discovered that the panel was fixed to the oak
framework by wooden dowels, driven flush with the woodwork.

One at a time, with the point of his dirk, he prised and whittled the
dowels from their drilled seats.  It was slow work and he dared make no
noise.  Any blow or rasp would reverberate through the ship.

It was almost dawn before he was able to remove the last peg and then
to slip the blade of his dagger into the joint and lever open the
panel.  It came away suddenly, with a squeal of protesting wood against
the oak frame that seemed to carry through the hull, and must surely
alarm both his father and the Governor.

With hated breath he waited for terrible retribution to fall around his
head, but the minutes slid by, and at last he could breathe again.

Gingerly he stuck his head and shoulders through the rectangular
opening.  Katinka's toilet cabin beyond was in darkness, but the odour
of her perfume made his breath come short.  He listened intently, but
could hear nothing from the main cabin beyond.  Then, faintly, the
sound of the ship's bell reached him from the deck above and he
realized with dismay that it was almost dawn and in half an hour his
watch would begin.

He pulled his head out of the opening, and replaced the panel, securing
it with the wooden dowels, but so lightly that they could be removed in
seconds.

Would you allow the Buzzard's men ashore?"  Hal asked his father
respectfully.  "Forgive me, IS Father, but can you trust him that
far?"

"Can I stop him without provoking a fight?"  Sir Francis answered with
another question.  "He says he needs water and firewood, and we do not
own this land or even this lagoon.  How can I forbid it to him?"

Hal might have protested further, but his father silenced him with a
quick frown, and turned to greet Lord Cumbrae as the keel of his
longboat kissed the sands of the beach and he sprang ashore his legs
beneath the plaid furred with wiry ginger hair like a bear's.

"All God's blessings upon you this lovely morning, Franky," he shouted,
as he came towards them.  His pale blue eyes darted restlessly as
minnows in a pool under his beetling red brows.

"He sees everything," Hal murmured.  "He has come to find out where we
have stored the spice."

"We cannot hide the spice.  There's a mountain of it," Sir Francis told
him.  "But we can make the thieving of it difficult for him.  "Then he
smiled bleakly at Cumbrae as he came up.  "I hope I see you in good
health, and that the whisky did not trouble your sleep last night,
sir."

"The elixir of life, Franky.  The blood in my veins."  His eyes were
bloodshot as they darted about the encampment at the edge of the
forest.  "I need to fill my water casks.  There must be good sweet
water hereabouts."

"A mile up the lagoon.  There's a stream comes in from the hills."

"Plenty of fish."  The Buzzard gestured at the racks of poles set up in
the clearing upon which the split carcasses were laid out over the slow
smoking fires of green wood.  "I'll have my lads catch some for us
also.  But what about meat?  Are there any deer or wild cattle in the
forest?"

"There are elephants, and herds of wild buffalo.  But all are fierce,
and even a musket ball in the ribs does not bring them down.  However,
as soon as the ship is careened I intend sending a band of hunters
inland, beyond the hills to see if they cannot find easier prey."

It was apparent that Cumbrae had asked the question to give himself
space, and he hardly bothered to listen to the reply.  When his roving
eyes gleamed, Hal followed their gaze.  The Buzzard had discovered the
row of thatched lean-to shelters a hundred paces back among the trees,
under which the huge casks of spice stood in serried ranks.

"So you plan to beach and careen the galleon."  Cumbrae turned away
from the spice store, and nodded across the water at the hull of the
Resolution.  "A wise plan.  If you need help, I have three first-rate
carpenters."

"You are amiable," Sir Francis told him.  "I may call upon you
"Anything to help a fellow Knight.  I know you would do the same for
me."  The Buzzard clapped him warmly on the shoulder.  "Now, while my
shore party goes to refill the water casks, you and I can look for a
suitable place to set up our Lodge.  We must do young Hal here proud.
It's an important day for him."

Sir Francis glanced at Hal.  "Aboli is waiting for you."  He nodded to
where the big black man stood patiently a little further down the
beach.

Hal watched his father walk away with Cumbrae and disappear down a
footpath into the forest.  Then he ran down to join Aboli.  "I am ready
at last.  Let us go."

Aboli set off immediately, trotting along the beach towards the head of
the lagoon.  Hal fell in beside him.  "You have no sticks?"

"We will cut them from the forest."  Aboli tapped the shaft of the hand
axe, the steel head of which was hooked over his shoulder, and turned
off the beach as he spoke.  He led Hal a mile or so inland until they
reached a dense thicket.  "I marked these trees earlier.  My tribe call
them the kweti.  From them we make the finest throwing sticks."

As they pushed into the dense thicket, there was a explosion of flying
leaves and crashing branches as some huge beast charged away ahead of
them.  They caught a glimpse of scabby black hide and the flash of
great bossed horns.

"Nyati!"Aboli told Hal.  "The wild buffalo."

"We should hunt him."  Hal unslung the musket from his shoulder, and
reached -eagerly for the flint and steel in his pouch to light his
slow-match.  "Such a monster would give us beef for all the ship's
company."

Aboli grinned and shook his head.  "He would hunt you first.  There is
no fiercer beast in all the forest, not even the lion.  He will laugh
at your little lead musket balls as he splits your belly open with
those mighty spears he carries atop his head."  He swung the axe from
his shoulder.  "Leave old Nyati be, and we will find other meat to feed
the crew."

Aboli hacked at the base of one of the kwed saplings and, with a dozen
strokes, exposed the bulbous root.  After a few more strokes he lifted
it out from the earth, with the stern attached to it.

"My tribe call this club an iwisa," he told Hal, as he worked, and
today I will show you how to use it."  With skilful cuts, he sized the
length of the shaft and peeled away the bark.  Then he trimmed the root
into an iron hard ball, like the head of a mace.  When he was finished
he hefted the club, testing its weight and balance.  Then he set it
aside and searched for another.  "We need two each."

Hal squatted on his heels and watched the wood chips fly under the
steel.  "How old were you when the slavers caught you, Aboli?"  he
asked, and the dextrous black hands paused in their task.

A shadow passed behind the dark eyes, but Aboli started working again
before he replied, "I do not know, only that I was very young."

"DO you remember it, Aboli?"

"I remember that it was night when they came, men in white robes with
long muskets.  It was so long ago, but I remember the flames in the
darkness as they surrounded our village."

"Where did your people live?  "Far to the north.  On the shores of a
great river.  My father was a chief yet they dragged him from his hut
and killed him like an animal.  They killed all our warriors, and
spared only the very young children and the women.  They chained us
together in lines, neck to neck, and made us march, many days, towards
the rising of the sun, down to the coast."  Aboli stood up abruptly,
and picked up the bundle of clubs he had finished.  "We talk like old
women while we should be hunting."

He started back through the trees the way they had come.  When they
reached the lagoon again, he looked back at Hal.  "Leave your musket
and powder flask here.  They will be no use to you in the water."

As Hal hid his weapon in the undergrowth, Aboli selected a pair of the
lightest and straightest of the iwisa.  When Hal returned he handed him
the clubs.  "Watch me.  Do what I do," he ordered, as he stripped off
his clothing and waded out into the shallows of the lagoon.  Hal
followed him, naked, into the thickest stand of reeds.

Waist deep, Aboli stopped and pulled the stems of the tall reeds over
his head plaiting them together to form a screen over himself.  Then he
sank down into the water, until only his head was exposed.  Hal took up
a position not far from him, and quickly built himself a similar roof
of reeds.  Faintly he could hear the voices of the watering party from
the Gull, and the squeaking of their oars as they rowed back from the
head of the lagoon where they had filled their casks from the
sweet-water stream.

"GoodV Aboli called softly, "Be ready now, Gundwane!  They will put the
birds into the air for us."

Suddenly there was a roar of wings, and the sky was filled with the
same vast cloud of birds they had watched before.  A flight of ducks
that looked like English mallard, except for their bright yellow bills,
sped in a low Vformation towards where they were hidden.

"Here they come," Aboli warned him, in a whisper, and Hal tensed, his
face turned upwards to watch the old drake that led the flock.  His-
wings were like knife blades as they stabbed the air with quick, sharp
strokes.

"Now!"  shouted Aboli, and sprang up to his full height, his right arm
already cocked back with the iwisa in his fist.  As he hurled it
cartwheeling into the air, the line of wild duck flared in panic.

Aboli had anticipated this reaction and his spinning club caught the
drake in the chest and stopped him dead.  He fell in a tangle of wings
and webbed feet, trailing feathers, but long before he struck the water
Aboli had hurled his second club.  It spun up to catch a younger bird,
snapping her outstretched neck and dropping her close beside the
floating carcass of the old drake.

Hal hurled his own sticks in quick succession, but both flew well wide
of his mark and the splintered flock raced away low over the reed
beds.

"You will soon learn, you were close with both your throws" Aboli
encouraged him, as he splashed through the reeds, first to pick up the
dead birds, and then to recover his iwisa.  He floated the two
carcasses in a pool of open water in front of him, and within minutes
they had decoyed in another whistling flock that dropped almost to the
tops of the reeds before he threw at them.

"Good throw, Gundwane!"  Aboli laughed at Hal as he waded out to pick
up another two dead birds.  "You were closer then.  Soon you may even
hit one."

Despite this prophecy, it was mid-morning before Hal brought down his
first duck.  Even then it was broken-winged, and he had to plunge and
swim after it half-way down the lagoon before he could get a hand to it
and wring its neck.  In the middle of the day the birds stopped
flighting and sat out in the deeper water where they could not be
reached.

"It's enough!"  Aboli put an end to the hunt, and gathered up his kill.
From a tree at the water's edge he cut strips of bark and twisted these
into strings to tie the dead ducks into bunches.  They made up a load
almost too heavy for even his broad shoulders to bear but Hal carried
his own meagre bag without difficulty as they trudged back along the
beach.

When they came round the point and could look into the bay where the
three ships lay at anchor, Aboli dropped his burden of dead birds to
the sand.  "We will rest here."  Hal sank down beside him, and for a
while they sat in silence, until Aboli asked, "Why has the Buzzard come
here?  What does your father say?"

"The Buzzard says he has come to make a Lodge for my initiation."

Aboli nodded.  "In my own tribe the young warrior had to enter the
circumcision lodge before he became a man."  Hal shuddered and fingered
his crotch as if to check that all was still in place.  "I am glad I
will not have to give myself to the knife, as you did."

"But that is not the true reason that the Buzzard has followed us here.
He follows your father as the hyena follows the lion.  The stink of
treachery is strong upon him."

"My father has smelt it also," Hal assured him softly.  "But we are at
his mercy, for the Resolution has no mainmast and the cannon are out of
her."

They both stared down the lagoon at the Gull of Moray, until Hal
stirred uneasily.  "What is the Buzzard up to now?"

The longboat from the Gull was rowing out from her side to where her
anchor cable dipped below the surface of the lagoon.  They watched the
crew of the small boat latch onto it and work there for several
minutes.

"They are screened from the beach, so my father cannot see what they
are up to."  Hal was thinking aloud.  "Tis a furtive air they have
about them, and I like it not at all."

As he spoke the men finished their secretive task and began to row back
to the Gull's side.  Now Hal could make out that they were.  laying a
second cable over their stern as they went.  At that he sprang to his
feet in agitation.  "They are setting a spring to their anchor!"  he
exclaimed.

"A spring?"  Aboli looked at him.  "Why would they do that?"

"So that with a few turns of the capstan the Buzzard can swing his ship
in any direction he chooses."

Aboli stood up beside him, his expression grave.  "That way he can
train his broadside of cannon on our helpless ship or sweep our
encampment on the beach with grape shot," he said.  "We must hurry back
to warn the captain."

"No, Aboli, do not hurry.  We must not alert the Buzzard to the fact
that we have spotted his trick."

Sir Francis listened intently to what Hal was saying, and when his son
had finished he stroked his chin reflectively.  Then he sauntered to
the rail of the Resolution and casually raised his telescope to his
eye.  He made a slow sweep of the wide expanse of the lagoon, barely
pausing as his gaze passed over the Gull so that no one could mark his
sudden interest in the Buzzard's ship.  Then he closed the telescope
and came back to where Hal waited.  There was respect in Sir Francis's
eyes as he said, "Well done, my boy.  The Buzzard is up to his usual
tricks.  You were right.  I was on the beach and could not see him
setting the spring.  I might never have noticed it."

"Are you going to order him to remove it, Father?"

Sir Francis smiled and shook his head.  "Better not to let him know we
have tumbled to him."

"But what can we do?"

"I already have the culver ins on the beach trained on the Gull.
Daniel and Ned have warned every man-" "But, Father, is there no ruse
we can prepare for the Buzzard to match the surprise he clearly plans
for us?" In his agitation Hal found the temerity to interrupt, but his
father frowned quickly and his reply was sharp.

"No doubt you have a suggestion, Master Henry."

At this formal address Hal was warned of his father's rising anger, and
he was immediately contrite.  "Forgive my presumption, Father, I meant
no impertinence."

"I am pleased to hear that."  Sir Francis began to turn away, his back
still stiff.

"Was not my great-grandfather, Charles Courtney, with Drake at the
battle of Gravelines?"

"He was, indeed."  Sir Francis looked round.  "But as you already know
the answer well enough, is this not a strange question to put to me
now?"

"So it may well have been Great-grandfather himself who proposed to
Drake the use of devil ships against the Spanish Armada as it lay
anchored in Calais Roads, may it not?"

Slowly Sir Francis turned his head and stared at his son.  He began to
smile, then to chuckle, and at last burst out laughing.  "Dear Lord,
but the Courtney blood runs true!  Come down to my cabin this instant
and show me what it is you have in mind."

Sir Francis stood at Hal's shoulder as he sketched a design on the
slate.  "They need not be sturdily constructed, for they will not have
far to sail, and will have no heavy seas to endure," Hal explained
deferentially' Yes but once they are launched they should be able to
hold a true course, and yet carry a goodly weight of cargo," his father
murmured, and took the chalk from his son.  He drew a few quick lines
on the slate.  "We might lash two hulls together.  it would not do to
have them capsize or expend themselves before they reach their
destination."

"The wind has been steady from the south-east ever since we have been
anchored here," said Hal.  "There is no sign of it dropping.  So we
must hold them up-wind.  If we place them on the small island across
the channel, then the wind will work for us when we launch them."

"Very well."  Sir Francis nodded, "How many do we need?"  He could see
how much pleasure he gave the lad by consulting him in this fashion.
Drake sent in eight against the Spaniards, but we do "not have the time
to build so many.  Five, perhaps?"  He looked up at his father, and Sir
Francis nodded again.  "Yes, five should do it.  How many men will You
neeD?"  Daniel must remain in command of the culver ins on the beach,
The Buzzard may spring his trap before we are ready, But I will send
Ned Tyler and the carpenter to help You build them and Aboli, of
course."

Hal stared at his father in awe.  you will trust me to take charge of
the building?"  he asked.  It is your plan so if it fails I must be
able to lay full blame upon you," his father replied, with only the
faintest smile upon his lips.  "Take your men and go ashore at once to
begin work.  But be circumspect.  Don't make it easy for the Buzzard."
al's axe men cleared a small opening on the far side of the heavily
forested island across-Hthe channel where they were hidden from the
Gull of Moray.  After a circuitous detour through the forest on the
mainland, he was also able to ferry his men and material across to the
island out of sight of the lookouts on the Buzzard's vessel.

That first night they worked by the wavering light of pitch-soaked
torches until after midnight.  All of them were aware of the urgency of
their task, and when they were exhausted they simply threw themselves
on the soft bed of leaf mould under the trees and slept until the dawn
gave enough light to begin work again.

By noon of the following day all five of the strange craft were ready
to be carried to their hiding place in the grove at the edge of the
lagoon.  At low tide, Sir Francis waded across from the mainland and
made his way down the footpath through the dense forest that covered
the island to inspect the work.

He nodded dubiously.  "I hope sincerely that they will float," he
mused, as he walked slowly round one of the ungainly vessels.

"We will only know that when we send them out for the first time."

Hal was tired, and his temper was short.  "Even to please you, Father,
I cannot arrange a prior demonstration for the benefit of Lord
Cumbrae."  His father glanced at him, concealing his surprise.  The
PUPPY grows into a young dog and learns how to growl, he thought, with
a twinge of paternal pride.  He demands respect, and, truth to tell, he
has earned it.

Aloud he said, "You have done well in the time at your disposal," which
deftly turned aside Hal's anger.  "I will send fresh men to help you
transport them, and place them in the grove."  al was so tired that he
could barely drag himself up the rope ladder to the entry poTt &-of the
Resolution.  But even though his task was complete, his father would
not let him escape to his cabin.

"We are anchored directly behind the Gull."  He pointed across the
moonlit channel at the dark shape of the other ship.  "Have you thought
what might happen if one of your fiendish vessels drifts past the mark
and comes down upon us here?  Dismasted as we are, we cannot manoeuvre
the ship."

"Aboli has already cut long bamboo poles in the forest."  Hal's tone
could not conceal that he was weary to his bones.  "We will use them to
deflect any drifters from us and send them harmlessly "up onto the
beach over there."  He turned and pointed back towards where the fires
of the encampment flickered among the trees.  "The Buzzard will he
taken by surprise, and will not be equipped with bamboo poles."

At last his father was satisfied.  "Go to your rest now.  Tomorrow
night we will open the Lodge, and you must be able to make your
responses to the catechism."  al came back reluctantly from the abyss
of sleep into which he had sunk.  For some moments he was not certain
what had woken him.  Then the soft scratching came again from the
bulkhead.

Instantly he was fully awake, every vestige of fatigue forgotten He
rolled off his pallet, and knelt at the panel.  The scratching was now
impatient and demanding.  He tapped a swift reply on the woodwork, then
fumbled in the darkness to find the stopper of his peep-hole.  The
moment he removed it, a yellow ray of lamp-light shone through but was
cut off as Katinka placed her lips to the opening on the far side and
whispered angrily, "Where were you last night?"

"I had duties ashore, "he whispered back.

"I do not believe you," she told him.  "You try to escape your
punishment.  You deliberately disobey me."

"No, no, I would not-" "Open this panel at once."

He groped for his dirk, which hung on his belt on the hook at the foot
of his bunk, and prised out the dowels.  The panel came away in his
hands with only the faintest scraping sound.  He set.  it aside, and a
square of soft light fell through the hatch.

"Come!  her voice ordered, and he wriggled into the gap.  It was a
tight squeeze, but after a short struggle he found himself on his hands
and knees on the deck of her cabin.  He started to rise to his feet,
but she stopped him.

"Stay down there."  He looked up at her as she stood over him, She was
dressed in a flowing night-robe of some gossamer material.  Her hair
was loose and hung in splendour to her waist.  The lamp-light shone
through the cloth of her robe and silhouetted her body, the lustre of
her skin gleaming through the transparent folds of silk.

"You have no shame," she told him, as he knelt before her as though she
were the sacred image of a saint.  (You come to me naked.  You show me
no respect.  I "I am sorry!"  he gasped.  In his anxiety to obey her he
had forgotten his own nudity, and now he cupped his hands over his
privy parts.  "I Meant no disrespect."

"No!  DO not cover Your shame.) She reached down and pulled away his
hands.  Both stared down at his groin.  They watched him slowly stretch
out and thicken, thrusting out towards her, his prepuce peeling back of
its own accord.

"Is there nothing I can do to stop such revolting behaviour?"  Katinka
took him by the hand and dragged him to his feet and after her into the
splendid cabin where first he had laid eyes on her beauty.

She dropped onto the quilted bed, and sat facing him.  The white silk
skirts parted and fell back on each side of her long slim thighs.  She
twisted the handful of his curls, and said, in a voice that was
suddenly breathless, "You must obey me in all things, you child of the
dark pit."

Her thighs fell apart, and she pulled his face down and pressed it hard
at their apex against the impossibly soft and silky mound of golden
curls.

He smelt the sea in her, brine and kelp, and the scent of the sparkling
living things of the oceans, the warm soft odour of the islands, of
salt surf breaking on a sun-baked beach.  He drank it in through
flaring nostrils, and then tracked down the source of this fabulous
aroma with his lips.

She wriggled forward on the satin covers to meet his mouth, her thighs
spread wider, and she tilted her hips forward to open herself to him.
With a handful of his curls, she moved his head, guiding him to that
tiny bud of pink, taut flesh that nestled in its hidden crevice.  As he
found it with the tip of his tongue she gasped and she began to move
herself against his face as though she rode bareback upon a galloping
stallion.  She gave.  small incoherent contradictory cries.  "Oh, stop!
Please stop!  No!  Never stop!  Go on for ever!"  Then suddenly she
wrenched his head out from between her straining thighs, and fell
backwards upon the covers lifting him over her.  He felt her hard
little heels dig into the small of his back as she wrapped her legs
around him, and her fingernails, like knives, cutting into the tensed
muscles of his shoulders.  Then the pain was lost in the sensation of
slippery engulfing heat as he slid deeply into her, and he smothered
his cries in the golden tangle of her hair.

The three Knights had set up the Lodge on the slope of the hills above
the lagoon, at the foot of a small waterfall that dropped into a basin
of dark water surrounded by tall trees hung with lichens and lianas.

The altar stood within the circle of stones, the fire burning before
it.  Thus all the ancient elements were represented.  The moon was in
its first quarter, signifying rebirth and resurrection.

Hal waited alone in the forest while the three Knights of the Order
opened the Lodge in the first degree.  Then his father, his bared sword
in his hand, came striding through the darkness to fetch him, and led
him back along the path.

The other two Knights were waiting beside the fire in the sacred
circle.  Their swords were drawn, the blades gleaming in the reflection
of the flames.  Lying upon the stone altar under a velvet cloth, he saw
the shape of his great-grandfather's Neptune sword.  They paused
outside the circle of stones and Sir Francis begged entrance to the
Lodge.

"In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost!"

"Who would enter the Lodge of the Temple of the Order of St.  George
and the Holy Grail?"  Lord Cumbrae thundered, in a voice that tang
against the hills, his long two-edged claymore glinting in his hairy
red fist.

"A novice who presents himself for initiation into the mysteries of the
Temple," Hal replied, "Enter on peril of your eternal life," Cumbrae
warned him, and Hal stepped into the circle.  Suddenly the air seemed
colder and he shivered, even as he knelt in the radiance of the watch
fire

"Who sponsors this novice?"  the Buzzard demanded again.

"I do."  Sir Francis stepped forward and Cumbrae turned back to Hal.

"Who are you?"  "Henry Courtney, son of Francis and Edwina."  The long
catechism began as the starry wheel of the firmament turned slowly
overhead and the flames of the watch fire sank lower.

It was after midnight when, at last, Sir Francis lifted the velvet
covering from the Neptune sword.  The sapphire on the hilt reflected a
pate blue beam of moonlight into Hal's eyes as his father placed the
hilt in his hands.

"Upon this blade you will confirm the tenets of your faith."

"These things I believe," Hal began, "and I will defend them with my
life.  I believe there is but one God in Trinity, the Father eternal,
the Son eternal and the Holy Ghost eternal."

"Amen!"  chorused the three Nautonnier Knights.

"I believe in the communion of the Church of England, and the divine
right of its representative on earth, Charles, King of England,
Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith."

"Amen!"  Once Hal had recited his beliefs, Cumbrae called upon him to
make his knightly vows.

"I will uphold the Church of England.  I will confront the enemies of
my sovereign lord, Charles."  Hal's voice quivered with conviction and
sincerity.  "I renounce Satan and all his works.  I eschew all false
doctrines and heresies and schisms.  I turn my face away from all other
gods and their false prophets."

"I will protect the weak.  I will defend the pilgrim.  I will succour
the needy and those in need of justice.  I will take up the sword
against the tyrant and the oppressor."

"I will defend the holy places.  I will search out and protect the
precious relics of Christ Jesus and his Saints.  I will never cease my
quest for the Holy Grail that contained his sacred blood."

The Nautonnier Knights crossed themselves as he made this vow, for the
Grail quest stood at the centre of their belief.  It was the granite
column that held aloft the roof of their Temple.

"I pledge myself to the Strict Observance.  I will obey the code of my
Knighthood.  I will abstain from debauchery and fornication," Hal's
tongue tripped on the word, but he recovered swiftly, "and I will
honour my fellow Knights.  Above all else, I will keep secret all the
proceedings of my Lodge."

"And may the Lord have mercy on your soul!"  the three Nautonnier
Knights intoned in unison.  Then they stepped forward and formed a ring
around the kneeling novice.  Each laid one hand on his bowed head and
the other on the hilt of his sword, their hands overlapping each
other.

"Henry Courtney, we welcome you into the Grail company, and we accept
you as brother Knight of the Temple of the Order of St.  George and the
Holy Grail."

Richard Lister spoke first, in his sonorous Welsh voice, almost singing
his blessing.  "I welcome you into the Temple.  May you always follow
the Strict Observance."

Cumbrae spoke next.  "I welcome you into the Temple.  May the waters of
far oceans open wide before the bows of your ship," and may the force
of the wind drive you on."

Then Sir Francis Courtney spoke with his hand firmly set on Hal's brow.
"I welcome you into the Temple.  May you always be true to your vows,
to your God and to yourself " Then between them the Nautonnier Knights
lifted him to his feet and, one after another, embraced him.  Lord
Cumbrae's whiskers were stiff and pricking as a garland of thorns from
the traitor's bush.  have a hold filled with my share of the spices
that you and I took from Heerlycke Nacht, enough to buy me a castle and
five thousand acres of the finest land in Wales," said Richard Lister,
as he clasped Sir Francis's right hand in his, using the secret grip of
the Nautonniers.  "And I have a young wife and two stout sons upon whom
I have not laid eyes for three years.  A little rest in green and
pleasant places with those I love, and then, I know, the wind will
summon.  Perhaps we will meet again on far waters, Francis."

"Take the tide of your heart, then, Richard.  I thank You for your
friendship, and for what you have done for my son."  Sir Francis
returned his grip.  "I hope one day to welcome both your boys into the
Temple."

Richard turned away towards his waiting longboat, but hesitated and
came back.  He placed one arm around Sir Francis's shoulders and his
brow was grave, his voice low, as he said, "Cumbrae had a proposition
for me concerning you, but I liked it not at all and told him so to his
face.  Watch your back, Fran kY and sleep with one eye open when he is
around you."

"You are a good friend," Sir Francis said, and watched Richard walk to
his longboat and cross to the Goddess- As soon as he went up the ladder
to the quarterdeck his crew weighed the anchor.  All her sails filled
and she moved down the channel, dipping her pennant in farewell as she
disappeared out through the heads into the open sea.

"Now we have only the Buzzard to keep us company.-" Hal looked across
at the Gull of MoraY where she lay in the centre of the channel, her
boats clustered around her discharging water casks, bundles of
firewood and dried fish into her holds.

"Make your preparations to beach the ship, please, Mister Courtney,"
Sir Francis replied, and Hal straightened his spine.  He was
unaccustomed to his father addressing him thus.  It was strange to be
treated as a Knight and a full officer, instead of as a lowly ensign.
Even his mode of dress had changed with his new status.  His father had
provided the shirt of fine white Madras cotton on his back, as well as
his new moleskin breeches, which felt soft as silk against his skin
after the rags of rough canvas he had worn before today.

He was even more surprised when his father deigned to explain his
order.  "We must go about our business as if we suspect no treachery.
Besides which the Resolution will be safer upon the beach if it comes
to a fight."

"I understand, sir."  Hal looked up at the sun to judge the time.  "The
tide will be fair for us to take her aground at two bells in tomorrow's
morning watch.  We will be prepared."

All the rest of that morning the crew of the Gull behaved like that of
any other ship preparing for sea, and though Daniel and his gun crews
with cannon loaded and aimed, and with slow-match burning, watched the
Gull from their hidden emplacements dug into the sandy soil along the
edge of the forest, she gave them no hint of treachery.

A little before noon Lord Cumbrae had himself rowed ashore and came to
find Sir Francis where he stood by the fire upon which the cauldron of
pitch was bubbling, ready to begin caulking the Resolution's hull when
she was careened.

"It's farewell, then."  He embraced Sir Francis, throwing a thick red
arm around his shoulders.  "Richard was right.  There's no prize to be
won if we sit here upon the beach and scratch our backsides."

"So you're ready to sail?"  Sir Francis kept his tone level, not
betraying his astonishment.

"With tomorrow morning's tide, I'll be away.  But how I hate to leave
you, Franky.  Will you not take a last dram aboard the Gull with me
now?  I would fain discuss with you my share of the prize money from
the Standvastigheid."

"My lord, your share is nothing.  That ends our discussion, and I wish
you a fair wind."

Cumbrae let fly a great blast of laughter.  "I've always loved your
sense of fun, Franky.  I know you only wish to spare me the labour of
carrying that heavy cargo of spice back to the Firth of Forth."  He
turned and pointed with his curling beard at the spice store under the
forest trees.  "So I shall let you do it for me.  But, in the meantime,
I trust you to keep a fair accounting of my share, and to deliver it to
me when next we meet plus the usual interest, of course."

"I trust you as dearly, my lord."  Sir Francis lifted his Hat and swept
the sand with the plume as he bowed.

Cumbrae returned the bow and, still rumbling with laughter, went down
to the longboat and had himself rowed to the Gull.

During the course of the morning the Dutch hostages had been brought
ashore and installed in their new lodgings, which Hal and his gang had
built for them.  These were set well back from the lagoon and separated
from the compound in which the Resolution's crew were housed.

Now the ship was empty and ready for beaching.  As the tide pushed in
through the heads the crew, under the direction of Ned Tyler and Hal,
began warping it in towards the beach.  They had secured the strongest
sheaves and blocks to the largest of the trees.  Heavy hawsers were
fastened to the Resolution's bows and stern, and with fifty men
straining on the lines, the ship came in parallel to the beach.

When her bottom touched the white sand they secured her there, As the
tide receded they hove her down with tackle attached to her mizzen and
foremasts, which were still stepped.  The ship heeled over steeply
until her mastheads touched the tree-tops.  The whole of the starboard
side of her hull, down as far as the keel, was exposed, and Sir Francis
and Hal waded out to inspect it.  They were delighted to find little
sign of shipworm infestation.

A few sections of planking had to be replaced and the work began
immediately.  When darkness fell the torches were lit, for the work on
the hull would continue until the return of the tide put a halt to it.
When this happened Sir Francis went off to dine in his new quarters,
while Hal gave orders to secure the hull for the night.  The torches
were doused and Ned led away the men to find their own belated
dinner.

Hal was not hungry for food.  His appetites were of a different order,
but it would be at least another hour before he could satisfy them.
Left alone on the beach, he studied the Gull across the narrow strip of
water.  It seemed that she was settled in quietly enough for the night.
Her small boats still lay alongside, but it would not take long to lift
them on board and batten down her hatches ready for sea.

He turned away and moved back into the trees.  He went down the line of
gun emplacements, speaking softly to the men on watch behind the culver
ins  He checked once more the laying of each, making sure that they
were truly aimed at the dark shape of the Gull, as she lay in a spangle
of star reflections on the surface of the still, dark lagoon.

For a while he sat next to Big Daniel, dangling his legs into the gun
pit

"Don't worry, Mister Henry."  Even Daniel used the new and more
respectful form of address naturally enough.  We're keeping a weather
eye on that red-bearded bastard, You can go off and get your supper."

"When did you last sleep, Daniel?"  Hal asked.

"Don't worry about me.  The watch changes pretty soon now.  I'll be
handing over to Timothy."  outside his hut Hal found Aboli sitting as
quietly as a shadow by the fire, waiting for him with a bowl that
contained roasted duck and hunks of bread, and a jug of small beer.

"I'm not hungry, Aboli," Hal protested.

"Eat."  Aboli thrust the bowl into his hands.  you will need your
strength for the task that lies ahead tonight."  Hal accepted the bowl,
but he tried to determine Aboli's expression and to read from it the
deeper meaning of his admonition.  The firelight danced on his dark
enigmatic features, like those of a pagan idol, highlighting the
tattoos on his cheeks, but his eyes were inscrutable.

Hal used his dirk to split the carcass of the duck in half and offered
one portion to Aboli.  "What task is this that I have to perform?"  he
asked carefully.

Aboli tore a piece off the duck's breast and shrugged as he chewed.
"You must be careful not to scratch the tender est parts of yourself on
a thorn as you go through the hole in the stockade to do your duty."

Hal's jaw stopped moving and the duck in his mouth lost its taste.

Aboli must have discovered the narrow passage through the thorn fence
behind Katinka's hut that Hal had so secretly left open.

"How long have you known?"  he asked, through his mouthful.

"Was I supposed not to know?"  Aboli asked.  "Your eyes are like the
full moon when you look in a certain direction, and I have heard your
roars like those of a wounded buffalo coming from the stern at
midnight."

Hal was stunned.  He had been so careful and cunning.  "Do you think my
father knows?"  he asked with trepidation.

"You are still alive," Aboli pointed out.  "If he knew, that would not
be so."

"You would tell no one?"  he whispered.  "Especially not him?"
"Especially not him," Aboli agreed.  "But take a care that you do not
dig your own grave with that spade between your legs."

"I love her, Aboli," Hal whispered.  "I cannot sleep for the thought of
her."

"I have heard you not sleeping.  I thought you might wake the entire
ship's company with your sleeplessness."

"Do not mock me, Aboli.  I will die for lack of her."  "Then I must
save your life by taking you to her."

"You would come with me?"  Hal was shocked by the offer.

"I will wait at your hole in the stockade.  To guard you.  You might
need my help if the husband finds you where he would like to be."

"That fat animal!"  Hal said furiously, hating the man with all his
heart.

"Fat, perhaps.  Sly, almost certainly.  Powerful, without doubt.  Do
not underrate him, Gundwane.  "Aboli stood up.  "I will go first to
make sure the way is clear."

The two slipped quietly through the darkness, and paused at the rear of
the stockade.

"You don't have to wait for me, Aboli," Hal whispered, "I might be a
little while."

"If you were not, I would be disappointed in you," Aboli told Hal in
his own language.  "Remember this advice always, Gundwane, for it will
stand you in good stead all the days of your life.  A man's passion is
like a fire in tall, dry grass, hot and furious but soon spent.  A
woman is like a magician's cauldron that must simmer long upon the
coals before it can bring forth its spell.  Be swift in all things but
love."

Hal sighed in the darkness.  "Why must women be so different from us,
Aboli?"

"Thank all your Gods, and mine also, that they are."  Aboli's teeth
gleamed in the darkness as he grinned.  He pushed Hal gently towards
the opening.  "If you call I will be here."

The lamp still burned in her hut.  The slivers of yellow light shone
through the weak places in the thatch.  Hal listened softly at the
wall, but heard no voices.  He crept to the door, which stood open a
crack.  He peered through it, at the huge four-poster bed that his men
had carried from her cabin in the Resolution.  The curtains were closed
to keep out the insects, so he could not be certain that there was only
one person behind them.

Soundlessly he slipped through the door and crept to the bed.  As he
touched the curtains, a small white hand reached through the folds,
seized his outstretched hand and dragged him in.  "Do not speak."  she
hissed at him.  "Say not a word!"  Her fingers flew nimbly down the
buttons of his shirt front, opening it to the waist, then her nails dug
painfully into his breast'.

At the same time her mouth covered his.  She had never kissed him
before and the heat and softness of her lips astonished him.  He tried
to grasp her breasts but she seized his wrists and held them at his
sides as her tongue slipped into his mouth and twined with his,
slithering and twisting like a live eel, goading and teasing him
slowly, higher than he had ever been before.

Then still holding his hands at his side she forced him over backwards.
Her swift fingers opened the fastening of his moleskin breeches, and
then in a flurry of silks and laces she bestrode his hips and pinned
him to the satin coverlet.  Without using her hands she searched with
her pelvis until she found him and sucked him into her secret heat.

Much later, Hal fell into a sleep so deep that it was like a little
death.

An insistent hand on his bare arm woke him, and he started up in alarm.
"What-" he began, but the hand whipped over his mouth and gagged his
next word.

"Gundwane!  Make no noise.  Find your clothes and come with me.
Quickly!"

Hal rolled gently off the bed, careful not to disturb the woman beside
him, and found his breeches where she had thrown them.

Neither spoke again until they had crept out through the gap in the
stockade.  There, they paused as Hal glanced up at the sky and saw, by
the angle of the great Southern Cross to the horizon, that it lacked
only an hour or so till dawn.  This was the witching hour when all
human resources were at their lowest ebb.  Hal peered back at Aboli's
dark shape.  "What is it, Aboli?"  Hal demanded.  "Why did you call
me?"

"Listen!"  Aboli laid a hand on his shoulder and Hal cocked his head.

"I hear nothing.  "Wait!"  Aboli squeezed his shoulder for silence.

Then Hal heard it, far off and faint, blanketed by the trees, a shout
of uncontrolled laughter.

"Where?"  ... Hal was puzzled.  "At the beach."

"God's wounds!"  Hal blurted.  "What devilry is this now?"  He began to
run, Aboli at his side, heading for the lagoon, stumbling in the
darkness on the uneven forest floor with low branches whipping into
their faces.

As they reached the first huts of the encampment, they heard more noise
ahead, a snatch of slurred song and a hoot of crazed laughter.

"The gun pits Hal panted, and at that moment saw, in the last glimmer
from the dying watch fire a pale human shape ahead.

Then his father's voice challenged him.  "Who is that?"  "Tis Hal,
Father."

"What is happening?"  It was clear that Sir Francis had only just
awakened for he was in his shirt sleeves and his voice was groggy with
sleep, but his sword was in his hand.

"I don't know," Hal said.  There was another roar of stupid laughter.
"It comes from the beach.  The gun pits  Without another word, all
three ran on, and came together to the first culverin.  Here, at the
edge of the lagoon, the canopy of leaves overhead was thinner, allowing
the last rays of the moon to shine through, giving them enough light to
see one of the gun crew draped over the long bronze barrel.  When Sir
Francis aimed an angry kick at him he collapsed in the sand.

It was then that Hal spotted the small keg standing on the lip of the
pit.  Oblivious to their arrival, one of the other gunners was on his
hands and knees in front of it, like a dog, lapping up the liquid that
dribbled from the spigot.  Hal smelt the sugary aroma, heavy on the
night air like the emanation of some poisonous flower.  He jumped down
into the pit and seized the gunner by his hair.

"Where did you get the rum?"  he snarled.  The man peered back at him
blearily.  Hal drew back his fist and struck him a blow that made his
teeth clash together in his jaw.  "Damn you for a sot!  Where did you
get it?"  Hal pricked him with the point of his dirk.  "Answer me or
I'll split your windpipe."

The pain and the threat rallied his victim.  "A parting gift from his
lordship," he gasped.  "He sent a keg across from the Gull for us to
drink his health and wish him God speed."

Hal flung the drunken creature from him and leapt onto the parapet.
"The other gun crews  Has the Buzzard sent gifts to all of them?"

They ran down the line of emplacements, and in each found sweetly
reeking oaken kegs and inert bodies.  Few of rthe crews were still on
their feet, but even those who were, were staggering and slobbering in
intoxication, Few English seamen could resist the ardent essence of the
sugar cane.

Even Timothy Reilly, one of Sir Francis's trusted coxswains, had
succumbed, and although he tried to answer Sir Francis's accusation, he
reeled on his feet.  Sir Francis struck him a blow with the hilt of his
sword across the side of his head and the fellow collapsed in the
sand.

At that moment, Big Daniel came running from the encampment.  "I heard
the uproar, Captain.  What has happened?"

"The Buzzard has plied the gun crews with liquor.  They are all of them
witless."  His voice shook with fury.  "it can only mean one thing-
There is not a moment to lose.  Rouse the camp.  Stand the men to arms
but softly, mind!"

As Daniel raced away, Hal heard a faint sound from the dark ship across
the still lagoon waters, a distant clank of ratchet and pawl, that sent
tingling shocks up his spine.

"The cap scan  he exclaimed.  "The Gull is tightening up on her anchor
spring.  They stared a cross the channel, and in the moonlight saw the
silhouette of the Gull begin to alter, as the hawser running from the
anchor to her capstan Pulliede her stern round, and her full broadside
was presented.  "the "guns are run out!"  Sir Francis exclaimed,
moonlight glinted on the barrels.  Behind each they could now make out
the faint glow of the burning slow-match in the hands of the Gulls
gunners.

"Satan's breath, they're going to fire on us!  Down!"  shouted Sir
Francis.  "Get down!"  Hal leapt over the parapet of the gun pit and
flung himself flat on the sandy floor.

Suddenly the night was lit brightly, as if by a flash of lightning.  An
instant later the thunder smote their eardrums and the tornado of shot
swept across the beach and thrashed into the forest around them.  The
Gull had fired all her cannon into the encampment in a single
devastating broadside.

The grape shot tore through the foliage above and branches, clusters of
leaves and slabs of wet bark rained down upon them.  The air was filled
with a lethal swarm of splinters blasted from the tree-trunks.

The frail huts gave no protection to the men within.  The broadside
slashed through, sending poles flying and flattening the flimsy
structures as though they had been hit by a tidal wave.  They heard the
terrified yells of men awakening into a nightmare, and the sobs,
screams and groans of those cut down by the hail of shot or skewered by
the sharp, ragged splinters.

The Gull had disappeared behind the pall of her own gunsmoke, but Sir
Francis leapt to his feet and snatched the slow-match from the
senseless hand of the gunner and glanced over the sights of the
culverin and saw that it was still aimed into the swirling smoke behind
which the Gull lay.  He pressed the match to the hole.  The culverin
bellowed out a long silver gush of touc smoke and bounded back against
its tackle.  He could not see the strike of his shot, but he roared an
order to those gunners down the line still sober enough to obey.
"Fire! Open fire!  Keep firing as fast as you can!"

He heard a ragged salvo but then saw many of the gun crews heave
themselves up and stagger away drunkenly among the trees.

Hal jumped onto the lip of the emplacement, shouting for Aboli and
Daniel.  "Come on!  Each of you bring a match and follow me.  We must
get across to the island!"

Daniel was already helping Sir Francis reload the culverin, swabbing
out the smoking barrel to douse the burning sparks.

"Avast that, Daniel.  Leave that work to others- I need your help," As
they started off together along the shore, the fog bank that covered
the Gulf drifted aside and she fired her next broadside, It had been
but two minutes since the first.  Her gunners were fast and well
trained and they had the advantage of surprise.  Again the Storm of
shot swept the beach and ploughed into the forest with deadly effect.

Hal saw one of their culverin struck squarely by a lead ball.  The
tackle snapped and it was hurled backwards off its train, so that its
muzzle pointed to the stars.

The cries of the wounded and dying swelled in the Pandemonium of
despair as men deserted their posts and fled among the trees.  The
desultory return fire from the gun pits shrivelled until there was only
an occasional bang and flash of cannon.  Once the battery was silenced,
the Buzzard turned his guns on the remaining huts and the clumps of
bush in which the Resolution's crew had taken shelter.

Hal could hear the crew of the Gull cheering wildly as they reloaded
and fired.  "The Gull and Cumbrae!"  they shouted.

There were no more broadsides, but a continuous stuttering roll of
thunder as each gun fired as soon as it was ready.  Their muzzle
flashes flickered and flared within the sulphurous white smoke bank
like the flames of hell.

As he ran Hal heard his father's voice behind him, fading with distance
as he tried to rally his shattered, demoralized crew.  Aboli ran at his
shoulder and Big Daniel was a few paces further back, losing ground to
the two swifter runners.

"We will need more men to launch," Daniel panted, "They're heavy "You
will not find them to help you now.  They're all hog drunk or running
for their very lives," Hal grunted, but even as he spoke he saw Ned
Tyler speed out of the forest just ahead, leading five of his seamen.
All seemed sober enough.

"Good manNed!"  Hal shouted.  "But we must hurry.  The Buzzard will be
sending his men onto the beach as soon as he has silenced our
batteries."

They charged in a group across the shallow channel between them and the
island.  The tide was low so at first they staggered through the
glutinous mud-flat that sucked at their feet, then plunged into the
open water.  They waded, swam and dragged themselves across, the
thunder of the Gull's barrage spurring them onwards.

"There is only a breath of wind from the sou'-west," Big Daniel gasped,
as they staggered out, streaming water, onto the beach of the island.
"It will not be enough to serve us."

Hal did not reply but broke off a dead branch and lit it from his
slow-match.  He held it high to give himself light to see the path and
ran on into the forest.  In minutes they had crossed the island and
reached the beach on the far side.  Here Hal paused and looked across
at the Gull in the main channel.

The dawn was coming on apace, and the night fled before it.  The light
was turning grey and silvery, the lagoon gleaming softly as a sheet of
polished pewter.

The Buzzard was training his guns back and forth, with the use of his
anchor spring, swinging the Gull on her moorings so that he could pick
out any target on the shore.

There was only the odd flash of answering fire from the gun pits on the
beach, and the Buzzard responded immediately to these, swinging his
ship and bringing to bear the full power of his broadside, snuffing
them out with a whirlwind of grape, flying sand and falling trees.

All of Hal's party were blown by the hard run across the mud-flats and
the plunge through the channel.  "No time to rest."  Hal's breath
whistled in his throat.  The devil ships were coveted with mounds of
cut branches and they dragged them clear.  Then they formed a ring
round the first of these vessels, and each took a handhold.

"Together now!"  Hal exhorted them, and between them they just lifted
the keels of the double-hulled vessel clear of the sand.  It was heavy
with its cargo, faggots of dried wood drenched with pitch to make it
more flammable.

They staggered down the beach with it, and dropped it into the
shallows, where it wallowed and rolled in the wavelets, the square of
dirty canvas on the stubby mast stirring idly in the light puffs of
wind coming down from the heads.  Hal took a turn of the painter around
his wrist to prevent it drifting away.

"Not enough wind!"  Big Daniel lamented, looking to the sky.  "For the
sweet love of God, send us a breeze."

"Keep your prayers for later."  Hal secured the vessel, and led them
back at a run into the trees.  They carried, shoved and dragged two
more of the boats down to the water's edge.

"Still not enough wind."  Daniel looked across at the Gull.  , In the
short time it had taken them to launch, the morning light had
strengthened, and now, as they paused for a moment to regain their
breath, they saw the Buzzard's men leave their guns, and, cheering
wildly, brandishing cutlass and pike, swarm down into the boats.

"Will you look at those swine!  They reckon the fight's over, "grunted
Ned Tyler.  "They're going in for the looting."  Hal hesitated.  Two
more devil ships still lay at the edge of the forest, but to launch
them would take too long.  "Then we must give them aught to change
their opinion," he said grimly, and gripped the burning match between
his teeth.  He waded out as deep as his armpits to where the first
devil ship bobbed, just off the beach, and lobbed the slow-match onto
the high pile of cordwood.  It spluttered and flared, blue smoke poured
from it and drifted away on the sluggish breeze as the pitch-soaked
logs caught fire.

Hal grabbed the painter attached to the bows, and dragged her out into
the channel.  Within a dozen yards he was into deeper water and had
lost the bottom.  He swam F_ round to the stern, and found a purchase
on it, kicked out strongly with both legs and the boat moved away.

Aboli saw what he was doing and plunged headlong into the lagoon.  With
a few powerful strokes he reached Hal's side.  With both of them
swimming it out, the boat moved faster.

With one hand on the stern Hal lifted his head clear of the water to
orientate himself and saw the flotilla of small boats from the Gull
heading in towards the beach.  They were crowded with wildly yelling
seamen, their weapons glinting in the morning light.  So certain was
the Buzzard of his victory that he could have left only a few men
aboard to guard the ship.

Hal glanced over his shoulder and saw that both Ned and Daniel had
followed his example.  They had led the rest of the gang into the water
and were clinging to the stems of two more craft, kicking the water to
a white froth behind them as they pushed out into the channel.  From
all three boats rose tendrils of smoke as the flames took hold in the
loads of pitch-soaked firewood.

Hal dropped back beside Aboli and set himself to work doggedly with
both legs, pushing the boat ahead of him, down the channel to where the
Gull lay at anchor.  Then the incoming tide caught them firmly in its
flood and, like a trio of crippled ducks, bore them along more
swiftly.

As Hal's boat swung its bows around he had a better view of the beach.
He recognized the flaming red head and beard of the Buzzard in the
leading longboat heading into the attack on the encampment, and fancied
that, even in the uproar, he heard peals of his laughter carrying over
the water.

Then he had something else to think about for the fire in the cargo
above him gained a firm hold and roared into boisterous life.  The
flames crackled and leapt high in columns of dense black smoke.  They
danced and swayed as their heat created its own draught, and the
single sail filled with more determination.

"Keep her moving!"  Hal panted to Aboli beside him.  "Steer her two
points more to larboard."

A gust of heat swept over him so fiercely that it seemed to suck the
air from his lungs.  He ducked his head beneath the surface and came up
snorting, water cascading down his face from his sodden hair, but still
kicking with all his strength.  The Gull lay less than a cable's length
dead ahead.  Daniel and Ned followed close behind him, both their
vessels wreathed in tarry black smoke and dark orange flame.

The air over them quivered and throbbed with the heat like a desert
mirage.

"Keep her going," Hal blurted.  His legs were beginning to ache
unbearably, and he spoke more to himself than to Aboli.  The painter
tied to the bows of the devil ship trailed back, threatening to wrap
around his legs, but he kicked it away there was no time to loosen
it.

He saw the first of the Gull's longboats reach the beach and Cumbrae
leap ashore, swinging his claymore in flashing circles around his head.
As he landed on the sand he threw back his head, uttered a
blood-curdling Gaelic war-cry, then went bounding up the steep beach.
As he reached the trees he looked back to make certain his men were
following him.  There he paused with his sword held high, and stared
back across the channel at the tiny squadron of devil ships, blooming
with smoke and flame and bearing down steadily upon his anchored
Gull.

"Nearly there!"  Hal gasped, and the waves of heat that broke over his
head seemed to fry his eyeballs in their sockets.  He plunged his head
underwater again to cool it, and this time when he came up he saw that
the Gull lay only fifty yards ahead.

Even above the crackling roar of the flames he heard the Buzzard's
roar.  "Back!  Back to the Gull.  The bastards are sending fireships at
her."  The frigate was stuffed with the booty of a long, hard
privateering cruise, and her crew sent up a wild chorus of outrage as
they saw the fruits of three years so endangered.  They raced back to
their boats even faster than they had charged up the beach.

The Buzzard stood in the bows of his, prancing and gesticulating so
that he threatened to upset her balance.  "Let me get my hands on the
pox-ridden swine.  I'll rip out their windpipes, I'll split their
stinking-" At that moment he recognized Hal's head at the stern of the
leading fire ship lit by the full glare of the swirling flames, and his
voice rose a full octave.  "It's Franky's brat, by God!  I'll have
him!

I'll roast his liver in his own fire!"  he shrieked, then lapsed into
crimson-faced, inarticulate rage and hacked at the air with his
claymore to spur his crew to greater speed.

Hal was only a dozen yards now from the Gull's tall side, and found
fresh strength in his exhausted legs.  TireIlessly Aboli swam on, using
a powerful frog-kick that pushed back the water in a swirling wake
behind him.

With the Buzzard's longboat bearing down swiftly upon them, they
covered the last few yards and Hal felt the fire ship bows thump
heavily into the Gulls stern timbers.  The push of the tide pinned her
there, swinging her broadside so that the flames were fanned by the
rising morning breeze to lick up along the Gulls side, scorching and
blackening the timbers.

"Latch onto her!"  bellowed the Buzzard.  "Get a line on her and tow
her off!"  His oarsmen shot straight in towards the fire ship but, as
they felt the full heat blooming out to meet them, they quailed.  In
the bows the Buzzard threw up his hands to cover his face, and his red
beard crisped and singed.  "Back off!"  he roared.  "Or we'll fry."  He
looked at his coxswain.  "Give me the anchor!  I'll grapple her, and
we'll tow her off."

Hal was on the point of diving and swimming under water out of the
circle of heat but he heard Cumbrae's order.  The painter still trailed
around his legs, and he groped beneath the surface for the end,
clenching it between his feet.  Then he sank below the water and swam
under the fire ship hull, coming up in the narrow gap between it and
the Gull.

The Gull's rudder stock broke the surface and, spitting lagoon water
from his mouth, Hal threw a loop of the painter around the pintle.  His
face felt as though it were blistering as the heat beat down upon his
head with hammer strokes, but he hitched the flaming craft securely to
the Gull's stern.

Then he dived again and came up next to Aboli.  "To the beach!"  he
gasped.  "Before the fire reaches the Gull's powder store."

Both struck out overarm, and Hal saw the longboat, close by, almost
close enough to touch, but the Buzzard had lost all interest in them.
He was whirling the small anchor around his head, and as Hal watched he
hurled it out over the burning vessel, hooking onto her.

"Lie back on your oars!"  he shouted at his crew.  "Tow her off."  The
boatmen went to it with all their strength, but immediately the fire
ship came up short on the mooring line Hal had tied, and their blades
beat the water vainly.  She would not tow, and now the planking of the
Gull's side was smouldering ominously.

Fire was the terror of all seamen.  The ship was built of combustibles
and stuffed with explosives, wood and pitch, canvas and hemp, tallow,
spice barrels and gunpowder.  The faces of the longboat's crew were
contorted with terror.  Even the Buzzard was wild-eyed in the firelight
as he looked up and saw the other two fireships drifting remorselessly
upon him.  "Stop those others!"  he pointed with his claymore.  "Turn
them away!"  Then he turned his attention back to the burning vessel
moored to the Gull.

By now Hal and Aboli were fifty yards away, swimming for the beach, but
Hal rolled onto his back to watch and trod water.  He saw at once that
the Buzzard's efforts to tow away the fire ship had failed.

Now he rowed around to the Gull's bows and scrambled up onto her deck.
As his crew followed him he roared, "Buckets!  Get a bucket chain
going.  Pumps!  Ten men on the pumps.  Spray the flames!"  They
scurried to obey, but the fire was spreading swiftly, eating into the
stern and dancing along the gunwale, reaching up hungrily towards the
furled sails on their outstretched yards.

One of the Gull's longboats had grappled Ned's fire shiP and, with
frantically beating oars, was dragging it clear.  Another was trying to
get a line on Big Daniel's fire shiP but the flames forced them to keep
their distance.  Each time they succeeded in hooking on, Daniel swam
round and cut the rope with a stroke of his knife.  The men in the
longboat who carried muskets and pistols were firing wildly at his
bobbing head, but though the balls kicked up spray all around him, he
seemed invulnerable.

Aboli had swum on ahead, and now Hal rolled onto his belly and followed
him "back to the beach.  Together they raced up the white sand, and
into the shot-shattered forest.  Sir Francis was still in the gun pit
where they had left him, but he had gathered around him a scratch crew
of the Resolution's survivors- They were reloading the big gun as Hal
ran up to him and shouted, "What do you want me to do?"  Come find more
of the men.  "Take Aboli with You to Load another culverin.

Bring the Gull under fire.  Sir Francis did not look up from the gun,
and Hal ran back among the trees.  He found half a dozen men, and he
and Aboli kicked and dragged them out of the holes and bushes where
they were cowering, and led them back to the silenced battery.

In the few short minutes it had taken him to gather the gm crew the
scene out on the lagoon had changed completely..  Daniel had guided
his fire ship up to the Gull's side and had secured her there.  Her
flames were adding to the confusion and panic on board the frigate.

Now he was swimming back to the beach.  He had seized two of his men,
who could not swim, and was dragging them through the water.

The Gull's crew had snared Ned's fire ship they had lines on it and
were dragging it clear.  Ned and his three fellows had abandoned it,
and were also floundering back towards the shore.  But, even as Hal
watched, one gave up and slipped below the surface.

The sight of the drowning spurred Hal's anger.  he poured a handful of
powder into the culverin's touch hole as Aboli used an iron marlin
spike to train the barrel around.  It bellowed deafeningly, and Hal's
men shouted with delight as the full charge of grape smashed into the
longboat towing Ned's abandoned craft.  It disintegrated at the blast,
and the men packed into her were hurled into the lagoon.  They splashed
about, screaming for aid and trying to clamber into another longboat
nearby, but it was already overcrowded and the men in her tried to beat
off the frantic seamen with their oars.  Some, though, managed to get a
hold on the gunwale, and yelling and fighting among themselves, they
caused the longboat to list heavily, until suddenly she capsized.  The
water around the burning hulks was filled with wreckage and the heads
of struggling swimmers.

Hal was concentrating on reloading, and when he looked up again, he saw
that some of the men in the water had reached the Gull and were
climbing the rope ladders to the deck.

The Buzzard had at last got his pumps working.  Twenty men were bobbing
up and down like monks at prayer as they threw their weight on the
handles, and white jets of water were spurting from the nozzles of the
canvas hoses, aimed at the base of the flames, which were now spreading
over the Gull's stern.

Hal's next shot shattered the wooden rail on the GulPs larboard side,
and went on to sweep through the gang serving the bow pump.  Four were
snatched away, as though by an invisible set of claws, their blood
splattering the others beside them on the handles.  The jet of water
from the hose shrivelled away.

"More men here!"  Cumbrae's voice resounded across the lagoon, as he
sent others to take the places of the dead.  At once the jet of water
was revived, but it made little impression on the leaping flames that
now engulfed the Gull's stern.

Big Daniel reached the shore, and dropped the two men he had rescued on
the sand.  He ran up into the trees, and Hal shouted, "Take command of
one of the guns.  Load with grape and aim at her decks.  Keep them from
fighting the fire."

Big Daniel grinned at Hal with black teeth and knuckled his forehead.
"We'll play his lordship a pretty tune to dance to," he promised.

The crew of the Resolution, who had been demoralized by the Gull's
sneak attack, now began to take heart again at the swing in fortunes.
One or two more emerged from where they had been skulking in the
forest.  Then, as the fire started to crash from the beach batteries
and thump into the Gull's hull, the others grew bold and rushed back to
serve the guns.

Soon a sheet of flame and smoke was tearing from out of the trees
across the water.  Flames had reached the Gull's mizzen-yards and were
taking hold in the furled sails.

Hal saw the Buzzard striding through the smoke, lit by the flames of
his burning ship, an axe in his hand.  He stood over the anchor rope
where it was drawn tightly through its fair lead and, with one gigantic
swing he cut it free.

Immediately the ship began to drift across the wind.  He raised his
head and bellowed an order to his seamen, who were clambering up the
shrouds.

They shook out the main sail and the ship responded quickly.  As she
caught the rising breeze, the flames poured outwards, and the
fire-fighters were able to run forward and direct the water from the
hoses onto the base of the fire.

She towed the two fireships for a short distance, but when the lines
that secured them burned through, the Gull left them as she headed
slowly down the channel.

Along the beach the culver ins continued to pour salvo after salvo into
her but, as she drew out of range, the battery fell silent.  Still
streaming smoke and orange flame behind her, the Gull headed for the
open sea.  Then, as she entered the channel between the heads and
looked to have sailed clear away, the batteries hidden in the cliffs
opened up on her.  Gunsmoke billowed out from among the grey rocks and
cannonballs kicked up spouts of foam along the Gull's waterline or
punched holes in her sails.

Painfully she ran this gauntlet, and at last left the smoking batteries
out of range.

"Mister Courtney!"  Sir Francis shouted at Hal even in the heat of the
battle he had used the formal address.  "Take a boat and cross to the
heads.  Keep the Gull under observation."

Hal and Aboli reached the far side of the bay, and climbed up to the
high ground on top of the heads.  The Gull was already a mile offshore,
reaching across the wind with sail set on her two forward masts.  Wisps
of dark grey smoke trailed from her stern, and Hal could see that her
mizzen sails and her spanker were blackened and still smouldering.  Her
decks seethed with the tiny figures of her crew as they snuffed out the
last of the fire and laboured to get the ship under full control and
sailing handily again.

"We have given his lordship a lesson he'll long remember, Hal exulted.
"I doubt we'll be having any more trouble from him for a while," "The
wounded lion is the most dangerous, Aboli grunted.  "We have blunted
his teeth, but he still has his claws."

When Hal stepped out of the boat onto the beach below the encampment he
found that his father already had a gang of men at work, repairing the
damage to the battery of culver ins along the shore.

They were building up the parapets and levelling the two guns that had
been shot off their mountings by the Gull's broadsides.

Where she lay careened on the beach, the Resolution had been hit by
shot.  The Gull's fire had knocked great raw wounds in the timbers.
Grape shot had peppered her sides but had not penetrated her stout
planks.  The carpenter and his mates were already at work cutting out
the damaged sections and checking the frames beneath them, preparatory
to replacing them with new oak planking from the ship's stores.  The
pitch cauldrons were bubbling and smoking over the coals, and the
rasping of saws and soughing of planes resounded through the camp.

Hal found his father further back among the trees, where the wounded
had been laid out under a makeshift canvas shelter.  He counted
seventeen and, at a glance, could tell that at least three were
unlikely to see tomorrow's dawn.  Already the aura of death hung over
them.

Ned Tyler doubled as the ship's surgeon he had been trained for the
role in the rough empirical school of the gundeck, and he wielded his
instruments with the same rude abandon as the carpenters working on the
Resolution's punctured hull.

Hal saw that he was performing an amputation.  One of the topmast-men
had taken a blast of grape in his leg just below the knee and the limb
hung by a taller of flesh and exposed stringy white sinew from which
protruded sharp white splinters of the shin bone.  Two of Ned's mates
were trying to hold down the patient on a sheet of blood-soaked canvas,
as he bucked and writhed.  They had thrust a doubled layer of leather
belt between his teeth.  The sailor bit down so hard upon it that the
sinews in his neck stood out like hempen ropes.  His eyes started out
of his straining crimson face and his lips were drawn back in a
terrifying rictus.  Hal saw one of his rotten black teeth explode under
the pressure of his bite.

He turned his eyes away and began his report to Sir Francis.  "The Gull
was heading west the last I saw of her.  The Buzzard seems to have the
fire in hand, although she is still making a cloud of smoke, -" He was
interrupted by screams as Ned laid aside his knife and took up the saw
to trim off the shattered bone.  Then, abruptly, the man lapsed into
silence and slumped back in the grip of the men who held him.  Ned
stepped back and shook his head.  "Poor bastard's taken shore leave.
Bring one of the others."  He wiped the sweat and smoke from his face
with a blood-caked hand and left a red smear down his cheek.

Although Hal's stomach heaved, he kept his voice level as he went on
with his report.  "Cumbrae was cracking on all the sail the Gull would
carry."  He was determined not to show weakness in front of his men and
his father, but his voice trailed off as Ned started to pluck a massive
wood splinter from another seaman's back.  Hal could not drag away his
eyes.

Ned's two brawny assistants straddled the patient's body and held him
down, while he got a grip on the protruding end of the splinter with a
pair of blacksmith's tongs.  He placed one foot on the man's back to
give himself purchase and leaned back with all his weight.  The raw
splinter was as thick as his thumb, barbed like an arrowhead and
relinquished its grip in the living flesh only with the greatest
reluctance.  The man's screams rang through the forest.

At that moment Governor van de Velde came waddling towards them through
the trees.  His wife was on his arm, weeping pitifully and barely able
to support her own weight.  Zelda followed her closely, attempting to
thrust a green bottle of smelling-salts under her mistress's nose.

"Captain Courtney!"  van de Velde said.  "I must protest in the
strongest possible terms.  You have placed us in the most dire danger.
A ball passed through the roof of my abode.  I might have been
killed."

He mopped at his streaming jowls with his neck cloth

At that moment the wretch who had been receiving Ned's ministrations
let out a piercing shriek as one of the assistants poured hot pitch to
staunch the bleeding into the deep wound in his back.

"You must keep these oafs of yours quiet."  Van de Velde waved
disparagingly towards the severely wounded seaman.  "Their barnyard
bleatings, are frightening and offending my wife."

With a last groan the patient sagged back limply into silence, killed
by Ned's kindness.  Sir Francis's expression was grun as he lifted his
Hal to Katinka.  "Mevrouw, you cannot doubt our consideration for your
sensibilities.  It seems that the rude fellow prefers to die rather
than offend you further."  His expression was hard and unkind as he
went on, "Instead of caterwauling and indulging in the vapours, perhaps
you might like to assist Master Ned with his work of tending the
wounded?"

Van de Velde drew himself to his full height at the suggestion and
glared at him.  "Mijnheer, you insult my wife.  How dare you suggest
that she might act as a servant to these coarse peasants?"

"I apologize to your lady, but I suggest that if she is to serve no
other purpose here other than beautifying the landscape you take her
back to her hut and keep her there.  There will almost certainly be
further unpleasant sights and sounds to test her forbearance."  Sir
Francis nodded at Hal to follow him, and turned his back on the
Governor.  Side by side, he and his son strode towards the beach, past
where the sail makers were stitching the dead into their canvas shrouds
and a gang was already digging their graves.  In such heat they must be
buried the same day.  Hal counted the canvas-covered bundles.

"Only twelve are ours," his father told him.  "The other seven are from
the Gull, washed up on the beach.  We have taken eight prisoners too.
I'm going to deal with them now."

The captives were under guard on the beach, sitting in a line with
their hands clasped behind their heads.  As they came up to them Sir
Francis said, loudly enough for all to hear, "Mister Courtney, have
your men set eight nooses from that tree."  He pointed to the
outspreading branches of a huge wild fig.  "We will hang some new fruit
from them."  He gave a chuckle so macabre that Hal was startled.

The eight sent up a wail of protest.  "Don't hang us, sir.  It were his
lordship's orders.  We only did as we was bade."

Sir Francis ignored them.  "Get those ropes hung up, Mister
Courtney."

For a moment longer Hal hesitated.  He was appalled at the prospect of
having to carry out such a cold-blooded execution, but then he saw his
father's expression and hurried to obey.

In short order ropes were thrown over the stout branches and the nooses
were knotted at the hanging ends.  A team of the Resolution's sailors
stood ready to heave their victims aloft.

One at a time the eight prisoners from the Gull were dragged to a
rope's end, their hands bound behind their backs, their heads thrust
through the waiting nooses.  At his father's orders Hal went down the
line and adjusted the knots under each victim's ears.  Then he turned
back to face his father, pale-faced and sick to the stomach.  He
touched his forehead.  "Ready to proceed with the execution, sir."

Sir Francis's face was turned away from the condemned men and he spoke
softly from the corner of his mouth.  "Plead for their lives."

"Sir?"  Hal looked bewildered.

"Damn you."  Sir Francis's voice cracked.  "Beg me to spare them."

"Beg your pardon, sir, but will you not spare these men?"  Hal said
loudly.

"The blackguards deserve nothing but the rope's end," Sir Francis
snarled.  "I want to see them dance a jig to the devil."

"They were only carrying out the orders of their captain."  Hal warmed
to the role of advocate.  "Will you not give them a chance?"

The noosed heads of the eight men swung back and forth as they followed
the argument.  Their expressions were abject, but their eyes held a
faint glimmer of hope.

Sir Francis fingered his chin.  "I don't know."  His face was still
ferocious.  "What would we do with them?  Turn them loose into the
wilderness to serve as fodder for wild beasts and cannibals?  It would
be more merciful to string them up."

"You could swear them in as crew to replace the men we have lost," Hal
pleaded.

Sir Francis looked still more dubious.  "They would not take an oath of
allegiance, would they?"  He glared at the condemned men who, had not
the nooses restrained them, might have fallen to their knees.

"We will serve you truly, sir.  The young gentleman is right.  You'll
not find better men nor more loyal than US."

"Bring my Bible from my hut," Sir Francis growled, and the eight seamen
took their oath of service with the nooses round their necks.

Big Daniel freed them and led them away, and Sir Francis watched them
go with satisfaction.  "Eight prime specimens to replace some of our
losses," he murmured.  "We'll need every hand we can find if we are to
have the Resolution ready for sea before the end of this month."  He
glanced across the lagoon at the entrance between the headlands.  "Only
the good Lord knows who our next visitors might be if we linger
here."

He turned back to Hal.  "That leaves only the drunken sots who lapped
up the Buzzard's rum.  Do you fancy another flogging, Hal?"

"Is this the time to render half our crew useless with the cat, Father?
If the Buzzard returns before we are fit for sea, then they'll fight no
better with half the meat stripped off their backs."

"So you say let them go scot free?"  Sir Francis asked coldly, his face
close to Hal's.

"Why not fine them their share of the spoils from the Standvastigheid
and divide it among the others who fought sober?"

Sir Francis stared at him a moment longer, then smiled grimly.  "The
judgement of Solomon!  Their purses will give them more pain than their
backs, and it will add a guilder or three to our own share of the
prize."

Angus Cochran, Earl of Cumbrae, stepped out on the saddle of the
mountain pass at least a thousand feet above the beach where he had
come ashore from the Gull.  His boatswain and two seamen followed him.
They all carried muskets and cutlasses.  One of the men balanced a
small keg of drinking water on his shoulder, for the African sun
speedily sucks the moisture from a man's body.

It had taken half the morning of hard hiking, following the game trails
along the steep and narrow ledges, to reach this lookout point, which
Cumbrae knew well.  He had used it more than once before.  A Hottentot
they had captured on the beach had first led him to it.  Now as he
settled comfortably on a rock that formed a throne-like seat, the
Hottentot's white bones lay at his feet in the undergrowth.  The skull
gleamed like a pearl, for it had lain here three years and the ants and
other insects had picked it clean.  It would have been foolhardy of
Cumbrae to allow the savage to carry tales of his arrival to the Dutch
colony at Good Hope.

From his stone throne Cumbrae had a breathtaking panoramic view of two
oceans and of rugged mountain scenery spread out all around him.  When
he looked back the way he had come he could see the Gull of Moray
anchored not far off a tiny rind of beach that clung precariously to
the foot of the soaring rocky cliffs where the mountains fell into the
sea.  There were twelve distinct peaks in this maritime range, marked
on the Dutch charts he had captured as the Twelve Apostles.

He stared at the Gull through his telescope but could see little
evidence of the fire damage she had suffered to her stern.  He had been
able to replace the mizzen yards, and furled new sails upon them.  From
this great height and distance she looked lovely as ever, tucked away
from inquisitive eyes in the green water cove below the Apostles.

The longboat that had brought Cumbrae through the surf was still drawn
up on the beach, ready for a swift departure if he should run into
trouble ashore.  However, he expected none.  He might encounter a few
Hottentots among the bushes but they were a harmless, half-naked tribe,
a pastoral people with high cheekbones and slanted Asiatic eyes, who
could be scattered willy-nilly by a musket shot over their heads.

Much more dangerous were the wild animals that abounded in this harsh,
untamed land.  The previous night, from the deck of the anchored Gull,
they had heard terrifying, blood-chilling roars, rising and falling,
then ending in a diminishing series of grunts and groans that sounded
like the chorus of all the devils of hell.

"Lions!"  the older hands who knew the coast had whispered to each
other, and the ship's company had listened in awed silence.  In the
dawn they had seen one of the terrible yellow cats, the size of a pony,
with a dense dark mane of hair covering its head and reaching back
behind its shoulder, sauntering along the white beach sands with a
regal indolence.  After that it had taken the threat of the lash to
force the boat crew to row Cumbrae and his party to the shore.

He reached into the leather pouch that hung in front of his plaid and
brought out a pewter flask.  He tipped its base to the sky and
swallowed twice, then sighed with pleasure and screwed the stopper back
into the neck.  His boatswain and the two seamen watched him intently,
but he grinned at them and shook his head.  "It would do you no good.
Mark my words, whisky is the devil's own hot piss.  If you have no pact
with him, as I have, you should never let it past your lips."

He slipped the flask back into the pouch, and lifted the telescope to
his eye.  On his left hand rose the sphimshaped mountain top that the
earliest mariners had named Lion's Head, when viewing it from the sea.
At his right hand stood the sheer cliff that towered up to the flat top
of the mighty Table Mountain that dominated the horizon and gave its
name to the bay that opened out beneath it.

Far below where he sat, Table Bay was a lovely sweep of open water,
nursing a small island in its arms.  The Dutch called it Robben Island,
for that was their name for the thousands of seals that infested it.

Beyond that was the endless wind-flecked expanse of the south Atlantic.
Cumbrae scrutinized it for any sign of a strange sail, but when he
could pick out nothing he transferred his attention below to the Dutch
settlement of Good Hope.

There was little to make it stand out from the wild and rocky
wilderness that surrounded it.  The roofs of the few buildings were of
thatch and blended into their surroundings.  The Company gardens, which
had been laid out to grow provisions for the VOC ships on their passage
to the east, were the most obvious sign of man's intrusion.  The
regular rectangular fields were either bright green with crops or
chocolate brown with new-turned earth.

Just above the beach was the Dutch fort.  Even from this distance
Cumbrae could see that it was unfinished.  He had heard from other
captains that since the outbreak of war with England the Dutch had
tried to speed up the construction, but there were still raw gaps in
the defensive outer walls, like missing teeth.

The fort, and its half-completed state, were of interest to Cumbrae
only in as much as it could afford protection to the ships that lay at
anchor in the bay, under its guns.  At this moment three large vessels
were there, and he fastened his attention on them.

One looked like a naval frigate.  She flew the ensign of the Republic,
orange, white and blue, from her masthead.  Her hull was painted black,
but the gun ports were picked out in white.  He counted sixteen on the
side she presented to him.  He judged that she would outgun the Gull if
it ever came to a set-piece engagement with her.  But that was not.
his intention.  He wanted easier pickings, and that meant one of the
other two vessels in the bay.  Both were merchantmen, and both flew the
Company ensign.

"Which one is it to be?"  he mused, as he glassed them with the closest
attention.

One looked familiar.  She rode high in the water, and he reckoned that
she was probably in ballast and on the eastern leg of her voyage,
heading out to the Dutch possessions to take on valuable cargo.

"No, by God, I recognize the cut of her jib now," he exclaimed aloud.
"She's the Lady Edwina, Franky's old ship.  He told me he'd sent her
back to the Cape with his ransom demand."  He studied her a while
longer.  "She's been stripped bare even the guns are out of her."

Losing interest in her as a possible prize, Cumbrae turned his
telescope on the second merchantman.  This ship was slightly smaller
than the Lady Edwina but she was heavy with her cargo, riding so low
that her lower ports were almost awash.  Clearly she was on her return
voyage, and stuffed with the treasures of the Orient.  What made her
even more attractive was that she was anchored further off the beach
than the other merchantman, at least two cables" length from the walls
of the fort.  Even under the best conditions that would be impossibly
long cannon-shot for the Dutch gunners on the shore.

"A lovely sight."  The Buzzard grinned to himself.  "Fair makes one's
mouth water to behold her."

He spent another half-hour studying the bay, noting the lines of foam
and spindrift that marked the flow of current along the beach and the
set of the wind as it swirled down from the heights.  He planned his
entry into Table Bay.  He knew that the Dutch had a small post on the
slopes of Lion's Head whose lookouts would warn.  the settlement of the
approach of a strange ship with a cannonshot.

Even at midnight, with the present phase of the moon, they might be
able to pick out the gleam of his sails while he was still well out at
sea.  He would have to make a wide circle, out below the horizon and
then come in from the west, using the bulk of Robben Island as a
stalking horse to creep in unobserved by even the sharpest lookout.

His crew were well versed in the art of cutting out a prize from under
the shore batteries.  It was a special English trick, one beloved of
both Hawkins and Drake.  Cumbrae had polished and refined it, and
considered himself the master of either of those great Elizabethan
pirates.  The pleasure of plucking out a prize from under the enemy's
nose rewarded him far beyond the spoils it yielded.  "Mounting the good
wife while the husband snores in the bed beside her so much sweeter
than tipping up her skirts while he's off across the seas with no
danger in it."  He chuckled, and swept the bay with his telescope,
checking that nothing had changed since his last visit, that there were
no lurking dangers such as newly em placed cannon along the shore.

Even though the sun was past its noon and it was a long journey back to
where the longboat waited on the beach, he spent a little longer
studying the rigging of the prize through the glass.  Once he had
seized her, his men must be able to get her sails up speedily, and work
her off the lee shore in the darkness.

It was after midnight when the Buzzard, using as his landmark the
immense bulk of Table Mountain which blotted out half the southern sky,
brought the Gull into the bay from the west.  He was confident that,
even on a clear starry night like this with half a moon shining, he was
still well out of sight of the lookout on Lion's Head.

The dark whale shape of Robben Island rose with startling suddenness
out of the gloom ahead.  He knew there was no permanent settlement on
this barren piece of rock so he was able to bring the Gull close into
its lee, and drop his anchor in seven fathoms of protected water.

The longboat on deck was ready to launch.  No sooner had the cat ted
anchor splashed into the easy swells, than it was swung outboard and
dropped to the surface.  The Buzzard had already inspected the
boarding-party.  They were armed with pistol and cutlass and oak clubs,
and their faces were darkened with lamp-black so that they looked like
a party of wild savages with only their eyes and teeth gleaming.  They
were dressed in pitch-blackened sea-jackets, and two men had axes to
cut the anchor cable of the prize.

The Buzzard was the last man down the ladder into the longboat, and as
soon as he was aboard they pushed off.  The oars were muffled, the row
locks padded, and the only sound was the dip of the blades, but even
this was lost in the breaking of the waves and the gentle sighing of
the wind.

Almost immediately they crept out from behind the island they could see
the lights on the mainland, two or three pinpricks from the watch fires
on the walls of the fort, and lantern beams from the buildings outside
the walls, spread out along the se afront

The three vessels he had spotted from the saddle of the mountains were
still anchored in the roads.  Each showed a riding lantern at the
masthead, and another at the stern.  Cumbrae grinned in the darkness.
"Most obliging of the cheese-heads to put out a welcome for us.  Don't
they know there's a war a-raging?"

From this distance he was not yet able to distinguish one ship from,
the others, but his boat-crews pulled eagerly, the scent of the prize
in their nostrils.  Half an hour later, even though they were still
well out in the bay, Cumbrae was able to pick out the Lady Edwina.  He
discarded her from his calculations and switched all his interest to
the other vessel, which had not changed position and still lay furthest
away from the batteries of the fort.

"Steer for the ship on the larboard side," he ordered his boatswain in
a whisper.  The long-boat-altered a point, and the beat of the oars
picked up.  The second boat was close astern, like a hunting dog at
heel, and Cumbrae peered back at its dark shape, grunting with
approval.  All the weapons were covered, there was no reflection of
moonlight off a naked blade or pistol barrel to flash a warning to the
watch on board the chase.  Neither was there a lit match to send the
reek of smoke down the wind, or a glow of light ahead of their
arrival.

As they glided in towards the anchored vessel Cumbrae read her name
from her transom, De Swael, the Swallow.  He was alert for any sign of
an anchor watch.  this was a lee shore, with &e sou'-easter swirling
unpredictably around the mountain, but either the Dutch captain was
remiss or the watch was asleep for there was no sign of life aboard the
dark ship.

Two sailors stood ready to fend off from the side of the Swallow as
they touched and mats of knotted oakum hung over the longboat's side to
soften the impact.  A solid contact of timbers against hull would carry
through the ship like the sounding body of a viol and wake every hand
aboard.

They touched with the gentleness of a virgin's kiss, and one of the
men, chosen for his simian climbing prowess, shot up the side and
immediately made a line fast to the shackle of a gun train and dropped
the coil back into the boat below.

Cumbrae paused long enough to lift the shutter of the storm lantern and
light the slow-match from the flame, then seized the line and went up
on bare feet hardened by hunting the stag without boots.  In a silent
rush the crews of both boats, also barefoot, followed him.

Cumbrae jerked the marlin spike from his belt and, his boatswain at'
his side, raced silently to the bows.  The anchor watch was curled on
the deck, out of the wind, sleeping like a hound in front of the
hearth. The Buzzard stooped over him and clipped his skull with one
sharp blow of the iron spike.  The man sighed, uncurled his limbs and
sagged into an even deeper state of unconsciousness.

His men were already at each of the Swallow's hatches, leading to the
lower decks, and as Cumbrae ran back towards the stern they were
quietly closing the covers and battening them down, imprisoning the
Dutch crew below decks.

"There'll not be more than twenty of a crew on board her," he muttered
to himself.  "And, like as not, de Ruyter will have taken most of the
prime seamen for the Navy.  They'll be only boys and fat old fools on
their last legs.  I doubt they'll give us too much trouble."

He looked up at the dark figures of his men silhouetted against the
stars as they raced up the shrouds and danced out along the yards.  As
the sails unfurled, he heard from forward the soft clunk of an axe blow
as the anchor cable was severed.  Immediately the Swallow came alive
and unfettered under his feet as she paid off before the wind.  Already
his boatswain was at the whipstall.

"Take her straight out.  Due west!"  Cumbrae snapped, and the man put
her head up into the wind as close as she would point.

Cumbrae saw at once that the heavily laden ship was surprisingly handy,
and that they would be able to weather Robben Island on this tack.  Ten
armed men waited ready to follow him.  Two carried shuttered storm
lanterns, all had match burning for their pistols.  Cumbrae seized one
of the lanterns and led his men at a run down into the officers"
quarters in the stern.  He tried the door of the cabin that must open
out onto the stern galleries and found it unlocked.  He went through it
swiftly and silently.  When he flashed the lantern, a man in a
tasselled night cap sat up in the bunk.

Wic is dit?"  he challenged sleepily.  Cumbrae swept the bedclothes
over his head to smother any further outcry, left his men to subdue and
bind the captain, ran out into the passageway and burst into the next
cabin.  Here another Dutch officer was already awake.  Plump and
middle-aged, his greying hair tangled in his eyes, he was still
staggering groggily with sleep as he groped for his sword where it hung
in its scabbard at the foot of his bunk.  Cumbrae shone the lantern in
his eyes, and placed the sharp point of his claymore at the man's
throat.

"Angus Cumbrae, at your service," said the Buzzard.  "Yield, or I'll
feed you to the gulls a wee bit tie at a time."  The Dutchman might not
have understood the buffed Scots accent, but Cumbrae's meaning was
unmistakable.  Gaping at him, he raised both hands above his head and
the boarding-party swarmed over him and bore him to the deck, wrapping
his bedclothes around his head.

Cumbrae ran on to the last cabin but, as he laid his hand on the door,
it was' flung open from inside with such force that he was thrown
across the passage into the bulkhead.  A huge figure charged out of the
darkened doorway with a blood-curdling yell.  He aimed a full overhead
blow at the Buzzard, but in the narrow confines of the passageway the
blade of his sword slashed into the door lintel, giving Cumbrae an
instant to recover.  Still bellowing with rage the stranger cut at him
again.  This time the Buzzard parried and the blade sped over his
shoulder to shatter the panel behind him.  The two big men raged down
the passageway, fighting at close range, almost chest to chest.  The
Dutchman was shouting insults in a mixture of English and his own
language, and Cumbrae answered him in full-blooded Scottish tones.
"You blethering cheese-headed nun-raper!  I'll stuff your giblets down
your ear-hqles."  His men danced around them with clubs raised, waiting
for an opportunity to cut down the Dutch officer, but Cumbrae shouted,
"Don't kill him!  He's a dandy laddie, and he'll fetch a pretty price
at ransom!"

Even in the uncertain lantern light, he had recognized his adversary's
quality.  Freshly roused from his bunk the Dutchman wore no wig on his
shaven head but his fine pointed moustaches showed him to be a man of
fashion.  His embroidered linen nightshirt and the sword he wielded
with the panache of a duelling master all proved that he was a
gentleman, and no mistake.

The longer blade of the claymore was a disadvantage in the restricted
space, and Cumbrae was forced to use the point rather than the double
edges.  The Dutchman thrust, then feinted low and slipped in under his
guard.  Cumbrae hissed with anger as the steel flew under his raised
right arm, missing him by a finger's width and slashing a shower of
splinters from the panel behind him.

Before his adversary could recover, the Buzzard whipped his left arm
around the man's neck and enfolded him in a bear-hug.  Locked together
in the narrow passage, neither man could use his sword.  They dropped
them and wrestled from one end of the corridor to the other, snarling
and snapping like a pair of fighting dogs, then grunting and howling
with pain and outrage as first one then the other threw a telling fist
to the head or smashed his elbow into the other's belly.

"Crack his skull," Cumbrae gasped at his men.  "Knock the brute down."
He was unaccustomed to being bested in a straight trial of muscle, but
the other was his match.  His up-thrust knee crashed into the Buzzard's
crotch, and he howled again, "Help me, damn your poxy yellow livers!
Knock the rogue down!"

He managed to get one hand free and lock it round the man's waist then,
bright crimson in the face with the effort, he lifted him and swung him
round so that his back was presented to a seaman waiting with a raised
oak club in his fist.  It cracked down with a practised and controlled
blow on the back of the shaven pate, not hard enough to shatter bone,
but with just sufficient force to stun the Dutchman and turn his legs
to jelly under him.  He sagged in Cumbrae's arms.

Puffing, the Buzzard lowered him to the deck, and all four seamen
bounced on him, pinning his limbs and straddling his back.  "Get a rope
on this hellion," he panted, "afore he comes to and wrecks us and
smashes up our prize."

"Another filthy English pirate!"  the Dutchman mouthed weakly, shaking
his head to clear his wits and thrashing around on the deck as he tried
to throw off his captors.

"I'll not put up with your foul insults," Cumbrae told him genially, as
he smoothed his ruffled red beard and retrieved his claymore.  "Call me
a filthy pirate if you will, but I'm no Englishman and I'll thank you
to remember it."

"Pirates!  All you scum are pirates."

"And who are you to call me scum, you with your great hairy arse
sticking in the air?"  In the scuffle the Dutchman's night shirt had
tucked- up around his waist leaving him bare below.  "I'll not argue
with a man in such indecent attire.  Get your clothes on, sir, and then
we will continue this discourse."

Cumbrae ran up onto the deck, and found that they were already well out
to sea.  Muffled shouts and banging were coming from under the
battened-down hatches, but his men had full control of the deck.
"Smartly done, you canty bunch of sea-rats.  The easiest fifty guineas
you'll ever put in your purses.  Give yerselves a cheer, and cock a
snook at the devil," he roared so that even those up on the yards could
hear him.

Robben Island was only a league dead ahead, and as the bay opened
before them they could make out the Gull lying on the moonlit waters.

"Hoist a lantern to the masthead," Cumbrae ordered, "We we'll put a wee
stretch of water between us before the cheese-heads in the fort rub the
sleep out of their eyes."

As the lantern went aloft, the Gull repeated the signal to acknowledge.
Then she hoisted her anchor and followed the prize out to sea.

"There is bound to be a good breakfast in the galley," Cumbrae told his
men.  "The Dutchies know how to tend their bellies.  Once you have them
locked neatly in their own chains, you can try their fare.  Boatswain,
keep her steady as she goes.  I'm going below to have a peep at the
manifest, and to find what we've caught ourselves."

The Dutch officers were trussed hand and foot, and laid out in a row on
the deck of the main cabin.  An armed seaman stood over each man.
Cumbrae shone the lantern in their faces, and examined them in turn.
The big warlike officer lifted his head and bellowed up at him, "I pray
God that I live to see you swinging on the rope's end, along with all
the other devil-spawned English pirates who plague the oceans."  It was
obvious that he had fully recovered from the blow to the back of his
head.

"I must commend you on your command of the English language," Cumbrae
told him.  "Your choice of words is quite poetic.  What is your name,
sir?"

"I am Colonel Cornelius Schreuder in the service of the Dutch East
India Company."

"How do you do, sir?  I am Angus Cochran, Earl of Cumbrae."

"You, sit, are nothing but a vile pirate."

"Colonel, your repetitions are becoming just a wee bit tiresome.  I
implore you not to spoil a most protriising acquaintanceship in this
manner.  After all, you are to be my guest for some time until your
ransom is paid.  I am a privateer, sailing under the commission of His
Majesty King Charles the Second.  You, gentlemen, are prisoners of
war."

"There is no war!"  Colonel Schreuder roared at him scornfully.  "We
gave you Englishmen a good thrashing and the war is over.  Peace was
signed over two months ago."

Cumbrae stared at him in horror, then found his voice again.  "I do not
believe you, sir."  Suddenly he was subdued and shaken.  He denied it
more to give himself time to think than with any conviction.  News of
the English defeat at the Medway and the battle of the Thames had been
some months old when Richard Lister had given it to him.  He had also
reported that the King was suing for peace with the Dutch Republic.
Anything might have happened in the meantime.

"Order these villains of yours to release me, and I will prove it to
you."  Colonel Schreuder was still in a towering rage, and Cumbrae
hesitated before he nodded at his men.  "Let him up and untie him," he
ordered.

Colonel Schreuder sprang to his feet and smoothed his rumpled
moustaches as he stormed off to his own cabin.  There, he took down a
silk robe from the head of his bunk.  Tying the belt around his waist
he went to his writing bureau and opened the drawer.  With frosty
dignity, he came back to Cumbrae and handed him a thick bundle of
papers.

The Buzzard saw that most were official Dutch proclamations in both
Dutch and English, but that one was an English news-sheet.  He unfolded
it with trepidation, and held it at arm's length.  It was dated August
1667.  The headline was in heavy black type two inches tall.  PEACE

SIGNED WITH DUTCH REPUBLIC!

As his eye raced down the page, his mind tried to adjust to this
disconcerting change in circumstances.  He knew that with the signing
of the peace treaty all Letters of Marque, issued by either side in the
conflict, had become null and void.  Even had there been any doubt
about it, the third paragraph on the page confirmed it.  All
privateers of both combatant nations, sailing under commission and
Letters of Marque, have been ordered to cease warlike expeditions
forthwith and to return to their home ports to submit themselves to
examination by the Admiralty assizes.

The Buzzard stared at the news-sheet without reading further, and
pondered the various courses of action open to him.  The Swallow was a
rich prize, the Good Lord alone knew just how rich.  Scratching his
beard he toyed with the idea of flouting the orders of the Admiralty
assizes, and hanging on to it at all costs.  His great-grandfather had
been a famous outlaw, astute enough to back the Earl of Moray and the
other Scottish lords against Mary, Queen of Scots.  After the battle of
Carberry Hill they had forced Mary to abdicate and placed her infant
son James upon the throne.  For his part in the campaign his ancestor
had received his earldom.

Before him all the Cochrans had been sheep thieves and border raiders,
who had made their fortunes by murdering and robbing not only
Englishmen but members of other Scottish clans as well.  The Cochran
blood ran true, so the consideration was not a matter of ethics.  It
was a calculation of his chances of getting away with this prize.

Cumbrae was proud of his lineage but also aware that his ancestors had
come to prominence by adroitly avoiding the gibbet and the hangman's
ministrations.  During this last century, all the seafaring nations of
the world had banded together to stamp out the scourge of the corsair
and the pirate that, since the times of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt,
had plagued the commerce of the oceans.

Ye'll not get away with it, laddie, he decided silently, and shook his
head regretfully.  He held up the news-sheet before the eyes of his
sailors, none of whom was able to read.  "It seems the war is over,
more's the pity of it.  We will have to set these gentlemen free."

"Captain, does this mean that we lose out on our prize money?"  the
coxswain asked plaintively.

"Unless you want to swing from the gallows at Greenwich dock for
piracy, it surely does."

Then he turned and bowed to Colonel Schreuder.  "sir, it seems that I
owe you an apology."  He smiled ingratiatingly.  "It was an honest
mistake on my part, which I hope you will forgive.  I have been without
news of the outside world these past months."

The Colonel returned his bow stiffly, and Cumbrae went on, "It gives me
pleasure to return your sword to you.  You fought like a warrior and a
true gentleman."  The Colonel bowed a little more graciously.  "I will
give orders to have the crew of this ship released at once.  You are,
of course, free to return to Table Bay and to continue your voyage from
there.  Whither were you bound, sir?  "he asked politely.

"We were on the point of sailing for Amsterdam before your
intervention, sir.  I was carrying letters of ransom to the council of
the VOC on behalf of the Governor designate of the Cape of Good Hope
who, together with his saintly wife, was captured by another English
pirate, or rather," he corrected himself, "by another English
privateer."

Cumbrae stared at him.  "Was your Governor designate named Petrus van
de Velde, and was he captured oh board the company ship the
Standvastigheid?"  he asked.  "And was his captor an Englishman, Sir
Francis Courtney?"

Colonel Schreuder looked startled.  "He was indeed, sir.  But how do
you know these details?"

"I will answer your question in due course, Colonel, but first I must
know.  Are you aware that the Standvastigheid was captured after
the-peace treaty was signed by our two countries?"

"My lord, I was a passenger on board the Standvastigheid when she was
captured.  Certainly I am aware that she was an illegal prize."

"One last question, Colonel.  Would not your reputation and
professional -standing be greatly enhanced if you were able to capture
this pirate Courtney, to secure by force of arms the release of
Governor van de Velde and his wife, and to return to the treasury of
the Dutch East India Company the valuable cargo of the
Standvastigheid?"

The Colonel was struck speechless by such a magnificent prospect.  That
image of violet-coloured eyes and hair like sunshine, which since he
had last looked upon it had never been far from his mind, now returned
to him in every vivid detail.  The promise that those sweet red lips
had made him outweighed even the treasure of spice and bullion that was
at stake.  How grateful the lady Katinka would be for her release, and
her father also, who was president of the governing board of the VOC.
This might be the most significant stroke of fortune that would ever
come his way.

He was so moved that he could barely manage a stiff nod of agreement to
the Buzzard's proposition.

"Then, sir, I do believe that you and I have matters to discuss that
might redound to our mutual advantage," said the Buzzard, with an
expansive smile.

The following morning the Gull and the Swallow sailed in company back
into Table Bay, and as soon as they had anchored under the guns of the
fort the Colonel and Cumbrae went ashore.  They landed through the
surf, where a party of slaves and convicts waded out shoulder deep to
drag their boat up the beach before the next wave could capsize it, and
stepped out onto dry land without wetting their boots.  As they strode
together towards the gates of the fort they made a striking and unusual
pair.  Schreuder was in full uniform, his sashes, ribbons and the
plumes in his Hal fluttering in the sou'-easter.  Cumbrae was
resplendent in his plaid of red, russet, yellow and black.  The
population of this remote ways station had never seen a man dressed in
such garb and crowded to the verge of the unpaved parade ground to gape
at him.

Some of the doll-like Javanese slave girls caught Cumbrae's attention,
for he had been at sea for months without the solace of feminine
company.  Their skin shone like polished ivory, and their dark eyes
were languid.  Many had been dolled up in European style by their
owners, and their small, neat bosoms were jaunty under their lacy
bodices.

Cumbrae acknowledged their admiration like royalty on a progress,
lifting his beribboned bonnet to the youngest and prettiest of the
girls, reducing them to titters and blushes with the bold stare of his
blue eyes over the fiery bush of his whiskers.

The sentries at the gates of the fort saluted Schreuder, who was well
known to them, and they went through into the interior courtyard.
Cumbrae glanced around him with a penetrating eye, assessing the
strength of the de fences  It might be peace now, but who could tell
what might transpire a few years from now?  One day he might be leading
a siege against these walls.

He saw that the fortifications were laid out in the shape of a
five-pointed star.  Clearly they had as their model the new fortress of
Antwerp, which had been the first to adopt this innovative
ground-plan.

Each of the five points was crowned by a redoubt, the salient angles of
which made it possible for the defenders to lay down a covering fire on
the curtain walls of the fort, which before would have been dead
ground, and indefensible.  Once the massive outer walls of masonry were
completed, the fort would be well nigh impregnable to anything other
than an elaborate siege.  It might take many months to sap and mine the
walls before they could be breached.

However, the work was far from finished.  Gangs of hundreds of slaves
and convicts were labouring in the moat and on top of the half-raised
walls.  Many of the cannon were stored in the courtyard and had not yet
been sited in their redoubts atop the walls overlooking the bay.

"An opportunity lo stP the Buzzard wailed.  This intelligence had come
to him too late to be of profit.  "With another few Knights of the
Order to help me Richard Lister, and even Franky Courtney, before we
fell out I could have taken this fort and sacked the town.  If we had
combined our forces, the three of us could have sat here in comfort,
commanding the entire southern Atlantic and snapping up every Dutch
galleon that tried to round the Cape."

As he looked around the courtyard, he saw that part of the fort was
also used as a prison.  A file of convicts and slaves in leg-irons was
being led up from the dungeons under the northern wall.  Barracks for
the military garrison had been built above these foundations.

Although piles of masonry and scaffolding littered the courtyard, a
company of musketeers in the green and gold doublets of the VOC was
drilling in the only open space in front of the armoury.

Oxdrawn wagons, heavily laden with lumber and stone, rumbled in and out
of the gates or cluttered the yard, and a coach, standing in splendid
isolation, waited outside the entrance to the south wing of the
building.  The horses were a matching team of greys, groomed so that
their hides gleamed in the sunlight.  The coachman and footmen were in
the green and gold Company livery.

"His excellency is in his office early this morning.  Usually we don't
see him before noon," Schreuder grunted.  "News of your arrival must
have reached the residence."

They went up the staircase of the south wing and entered through teak
doors with the Company crest carved into them.  In the entrance lobby,
with its polished yellowwood floors, an aide-de-camp took their hats
and swords, and led them through to the antechamber.  "I will tell his
excellency that you are here," he excused himself, as he backed out of
the room.  He returned in minutes.  "His excellency will see you
now."

The Governor's audience room overlooked the bay through narrow slit
windows.  It was furnished in a strange mixture of heavy Dutch
furniture and Oriental artifacts.  Flamboyant Chinese rugs covered the
polished floors, and the glass-fronted cabinets displayed a collection
of delicate ceramic ware in the distinctive and colourful glazes of the
Ming dynasty.

Governor Kleinhans was a tall, dyspeptic man in late middle age, his
skin yellowed by a life in the tropics and his features creased and
wrinkled by the cares of his office.  His frame was skeletal, his
Adam's apple so prominent as to seem deformed, and his full wig too
young in style for the withered features beneath it.

"Colonel Schreuder."  He greeted the officer stiffly, with, out taking
his faded eyes, in their pouches of jaundiced skin, off the Buzzard.
"When I woke this morning and saw your ship was gone I thought you had
sailed for home without my leave."

"I beg your pardon, sir.  I will give you a full explanation, but may I
first introduce the Earl of Cumbrae, an English nobleman."  "Scots, not
English," the Buzzard growled.

However, Governor Kleinhans was impressed by the title, and switched
into good grammatical English, marred only slightly by his guttural
accent.  "Ah, I bid you welcome to the Cape of Good Hope, my lord.
Please be seated.  May I offer you a light refreshment a glass of
Madeira, perhaps?"

With long-stemmed glasses of the amber wine in their hands, their
high-backed chairs drawn up in a circle, the colonel leaned towards
Kleinhans and murmured, "Sir, what I have to tell you is a matter of
the utmost delicacy," and he glanced at the hovering servants and
aide-de-camp.  The Governor clapped his hands and they disappeared like
smoke on the wind.  Intrigued, he inclined his head towards Schreuder.
"Now, Colonel, what is this secret you have for me?"

Slowly, as Schreuder talked, the Governor's gloomy features lit with-
greed and anticipation, but, when Schreuder had finished his
proposition he made a show of reluctance and scepticism.  "How do we
know that this pirate, Courtney, will still be anchored where last you
saw him?  "he asked Cumbrae.

"As recently as twelve days ago the stolen galleon, the
Standvastigheid, was careened upon the beach with all her cargo
unloaded and her mainmast un stepped  I am a mariner, and I can assure
you that Courtney could not have had her ready for sea again within
thirty days.  That means that we still have over two weeks in which to
make our preparations and to launch our attack upon him," the Buzzard
explained.

Kleinhans nodded.  "So whereabouts is the anchorage in which this
rascal is hiding?"  The Governor tried to make the question casual, but
his fever-yellowed eyes glinted.

"I can only assure you that he is well concealed."  The Buzzard
side-stepped the question with a dry smile.  "With, out my help your
men will not be able to hunt him down."

"I see."  With his bony forefinger the Governor picked at his nostril,
then inspected the flake of dried snot he had retrieved.  Without
looking up, he went on,-still casually, "Naturally you would not
require a reward for thus performing what is, after all, merely your
bounden and moral duty, to root out this pirates" nest."

"I would not ask for a reward, other than a modest amount to compensate
me for my time and expenses," Cumbrae agreed.

"One hundredth part of what we are able to recover of the galleon's
cargo," Kleinhans suggested.

"Not quite so modest," Cumbrae demurred.  "I had in mind a half."

"Half!"  Governor Kleinhans sat bolt upright and his complexion turned
the colour of old parchment.  "You are jesting, surely, sir."

"I assure you, sir, that when it comes to money I seldom jest," said
the Buzzard.  "Have you considered how grateful the director-general of
your company will be when you return his daughter to him unharmed, and
without having to make the ransom payment?  That alone would be a
compelling factor in augmenting your pension, without even taking into
account the value of the cargo of spice and bullion."

While Governor Kleinhans considered this he began to excavate his other
nostril, and remained silent.

Cumbrae went on persuasively, of course, once van de Velde is released
from the clutches of this villain and arrives here, you will be able to
hand over your duties to him, and then you will be free to return home
to Holland where the rewards of your long and loyal service await you."
Colonel Schreuder had remarked on how avidly the Governor was looking
forward to his imminent retirement, after thirty years in the Company's
service.

Kleinhans stirred at such an inviting prospect, but his voice was
harsh.  "A tenth of the value of the recovered cargo, but not to
include the value of any pirates captured and sold on the slave block.
A tenth, and that is my final offer."  Cumbrae looked tragic.  "I shall
have to divide the reward with my crew.  I could not consider a lesser
figure than a quarter."

"A fifth, "grated Kleinhans.

"I agree," said Cumbrae, well content.

"And, of course, I will need the services of that fine naval frigate
anchored in the bay, and three companies of your musketeers with
Colonel Schreuder here to command them.  And my own vessel needs to be
replenished with powder and cartridge, not to mention water and other
provisions."

It had taken a prodigious effort by Colonel Schreuder, but by late
afternoon the following day the three companies of infantry, each
comprising ninety men, were drawn up on the parade ground outside the
walls of the fort, ready to embark.  The officers and non-commissioned
officers were all Dutch, but the musketeers were a mixture of native
troops, Malaccans from Malaysia, Hottentots recruited from the tribes
of the Cape, and Sinhalese and Tamils from the Company's possessions in
Ceylon.  They were bowed like hunchbacks under their weapons and heavy
backpacks but, incongruously, they were barefoot.

As Cumbrae watched them march out through the gates, in their flat
black caps, green doublets and white cross belts, their muskets carried
at the trail, he remarked sourly, "I hope they fight as prettily as
they march, but I think they may be in for a wee surprise when they
meet Franky's sea-rats."

He could carry only a single company with all its baggage on board the
Gull.  Even then her decks would be crowded and uncomfortable,
especially if they ran into heavy weather on the way.

The other two companies of infantry went on board the naval frigate.
They would have the easier passage, for De Sonnevogel, the Sun Bird,
was a fast and commodious vessel.  She had been captured from Oliver
Cromwell's fleet by the Dutch Admiral de Ruyter during the battle of
the Kentish Knock, and had been in de Ruyter's squadron during his raid
up the Thames only months previously to her arrival off the Cape.  She
was sleek and lovely in her glossy black paint, and snowy-white trim.
It was easy to see that her sails had been renewed before she sailed
from Holland, and all her sheets and rigging were spanking new.  Her
crew were mostly veterans of the two recent wars with England, prime
battle-hardened warriors.

Her commander, Captain Ryker, was also a tough, rugged deep-water
mariner, wide in the shoulder and big in the gut.  He made no attempt
to hide his displeasure at finding himself under the direction of a man
who, until recently, had been his enemy, an irregular whom he
considered little short of a greedy pirate.  His bearing towards
Cumbrae was cold and hostile, his scorn barely concealed.

They had held a council of war aboard De Sonnevogel which had not gone
smoothly, Cumbrae refusing to divulge their destination and Ryker
making objection to every suggestion and arguing every proposal that he
put to him.  Only the arbitration of Colonel Schreuder had kept the
expedition from breaking down irretrievably before they had even left
the shelter of Table Bay.

It was with a profound feeling of relief that the Buzzard at last
watched the frigate weigh anchor and, with almost two hundred
musketeers lining her rail waving fond farewells to the throng of
gaudily dressed or half-naked Hottentot women on the beach, follow the
little Gull out towards the entrance to the bay.

The Gull's own deck was crowded with infantrymen, who waved and
jabbered and pointed out the landmarks on the mountain and on the beach
to each other, and hampered the seamen as they worked the Gull off the
lee shore.

As the ship rounded the point below Lion's Head and felt the first
majestic thrust of the south Atlantic, a strange quiet fell over the
noisy passengers, and as they tacked and went onto a broad easterly
reach, the first of the musketeers rushed to the ship's side, and shot
a long yellow spurt of vomit directly into the eye of the wind.  A hoot
of laughter went up from the crew as the wind sent it all back into the
wretch's pallid face and splattered his green doublet with the bilious
evidence of his last meal.

Within the hour most of the other soldiers had followed his example,
and the decks were so slippery and treacherous with their offerings to
Neptune that the Buzzard ordered the pumps to be manned and both decks
and passengers to be sluiced down.

"It's going to be an interesting few days," he told Colonel Schreuder.
"I hope these beauties will have the strength to carry themselves
ashore when we reach our destination."

Before they had half completed their journey, it became apparent that
what he had said in jest was in fact dire reality.  Most of the troops
seemed moribund, laid out like corpses on the deck with nothing left in
their bellies to bring up.  A signal from Captain Ryker indicated that
those aboard the Sonnevogel were in no better case.

"If we put these men straight from the deck into a fight, Franky's lads
will eat them up without spitting out the bones.  We'll have to change
our plans," the Buzzard told Schreuder, who sent a signal across to the
Sonnevogel.  While he hove to, Captain Ryker came across in his skiff
with obvious bad grace to discuss the new plan of assault.

Cumbrae had drawn up a sketch map of the lagoon and the shoreline that
lay on each side of the heads.  The three officers pored over this in
the tiny cabin of the Gull.  Ryker's mood had been alleviated by the
disclosure of their final destination, by the prospect of action and
prize_ money and by a dram of whisky that Cumbrae poured for him.  For
once he was disposed to agree with the plan with which Cumbrae
presented him.

"There is a another headland here, about eight or nine leagues west of
the entrance to the lagoon."  The Buzzard laid his hand on the map.
"With this wind there will be enough calm water in the lee to send the
boats ashore and land Colonel Schreuder and his musketeers on the
beach.  Then he will begin his approach march."  He stabbed at the map
with a forefinger bristling with ginger hair.  "The interlude on dry
land and the exercise will give his men an opportunity to recover from
their malaise.  By the time they reach Courtney's lair they should have
some fire in them again."

"Have the pirates set up any de fences at the entrance to the lagoon?"
Ryker wanted to know.

"They have batteries here and here, covering the channel."  Cumbrae
drew a series of crosses down each side of the entrance.  "They are so
well protected as to be invulnerable to return fire delivered by a ship
entering or leaving the anchorage."  He paused as he remembered the
rousing send-off those culver ins had given the Gull as she fled from
the lagoon after his abortive attack on the encampment.

Ryker looked sober at the prospect of subjecting his ship to
close-range salvoes from entrenched shore batteries.

"I will be able to deal with the batteries on the western approaches,"
Schreuder promised them.  "I will send a small detachment to climb down
the cliffs.  They will not be expecting an attack from their rear.
However, I will not be able to cross the channel and reach the guns on
the eastern headland."

"I will send in another raiding party to put those guns out of the
game," Ryker cut in.  "As long as we can devise a system of signals to
co-ordinate our attacks."  They spent another hour working out a code
with flag and smoke between the ships and the shore.  By this time the
blood of both Ryker and Schreuder was a-boil, and they were vying for
the opportunity to win battle honours.

Why should I risk my own sailors when these heroes are eager to do the
work for me?  the Buzzard thought happily.  Aloud he said, "I commend
you, gentlemen.  That is excellent planning.  I take it you will delay
the attacks on the batteries at the entrance until Colonel Schreuder
has brought up his main force of infantry through the forest and is in
a position to launch the main assault on the rear of the pirate
encampment."

"Yes, quite so," Schreuder agreed eagerly.  "But as soon as the
batteries on the heads have been put out of action, your ships will
provide the diversion by sailing in through them and bombarding the
pirates" encampment.  That will be the signal for me to launch my land
attack into their rear.

"We will give you our full support."  Cumbrae nodded, thinking
comfortably to himself, How hungry he is for glory, and restrained an
avuncular urge to pat him on the shoulder.  The idiot is welcome to my
share of the cannonballs, just as long as I can get my hands on the
prize.  Then he looked speculatively at Captain Ryker.  It only
remained to arrange that the Sonnevogel lead the squadron through the
heads into the lagoon, and in the process draw the main attentions of
Franky's culver ins along the edge of the forest.  It might be to his
advantage if she were to sustain heavy damage before Franky was
overwhelmed.  If the Buzzard were in command of the only seaworthy ship
at the end of the battle, he would be able to dictate his own terms
when it came to disposing of the spoils of war.

"Captain Ryker," he said with an arrogant flourish, "I claim the honour
of leading the squadron into the lagoon in my gallant little Gull.  My
ruffians would not forgive me if I let you go ahead of us."

Ryker's lips set stubbornly.  "Sir!"  he said stiffly.  "The Sonnevogel
is more heavily armed, and better able to resist the balls of the
enemy.  I must insist that you allow me to lead the entry into the
lagoon."

And that takes care of that, thought the Buzzard, as he bowed his head
in reluctant acquiescence.

Three days later they put Colonel Schreuder and his three companies of
seasick musketeers ashore on a deserted beach and watched them march
away into the African wilderness in a long untidy column.

The African night was hushed but never silent.  When Hal paused on the
narrow path, his father's light footfalls dwindled ahead of him, and
Hal could hear the soft sounds of myriad life that teemed in the forest
around him.  the warbling call of a night bird, more hauntingly
beautiful than ever musician coaxed from stringed instrument, the
scrabbling of rodents and other tiny mammals among the dead leaves and
the sudden murderous cry of the small feline predators that hunted
them, the singing and hum of the insects and the eternal soughing of
the wind.  All were part of the hidden choir in this temple of Pan.

The beam of the storm lantern disappeared ahead of him, and now he
stepped out to catch up.  When they had left the encampment, his father
had ignored his question, but when at last they emerged from the forest
at the foot of the hills, he knew where they were going.  The stones
that still marked the Lodge within which he had taken his vows formed a
ghostly circle in the glow of the waning moon.  At the entry to it Sir
Francis went down on one knee and bowed his head in prayer.  Hal knelt
beside him.

"Lord God, make me worthy," Hal prayed.  "Give me the strength to keep
the vows I made here in your name."

His father lifted his head at last.  He stood up, took Hal's hand and
raised him to his feet.  Then, side by side, they stepped into the
circle and approached the altar stone.  "In Arcadia habito!  Sir
Francis said, in his deep, lilting voice, and Hal gave the response.

"Flumen sac rum bene cognosco!"

Sir Francis set the lantern upon the tall stone and, in its yellow
light, they knelt again.  For a long while they prayed in silence,
until Sir Francis looked up at the sky.  "The stars are the ciphers of
the Lord.  They light our comings and our goings.  They guide us across
uncharted oceans.  They hold our destiny in their coils.  They measure
the number of our days."

Hal's eyes went immediately to his own particular star, Regulus.
Timeless and unchanging it sparkled in the sign of the Lion.

"Last night I cast your horoscope," Sir Francis told him.  "There is
much that I cannot reveal, but this I can tell you.  The stars hold a
singular destiny in store for you.  I was not able to fathom its
nature."

There was a poignancy in his father's tone, and Hal looked at him.

His features were haggard, the shadows beneath his eyes deep and
dark.

"If the stars are so favourably inclined, what is it that troubles you,
Father?"

"I have been harsh to you.  I have driven you hard."  Hal shook his
head.  "Father, -" But Sir Francis quieted him with a hand on his arm.
"You must remember always why I did this to you.  If I had loved you
less, I would have been kinder to you."  His grip on Hal's arm
tightened as he felt Hal draw breath to speak.  "I have tried to
prepare you and give you the knowledge and strength to meet that
particular destiny that the stars have in store for you.  Do you
understand that?"

"Yes.  I have known this all along.  Aboli explained it to me.

"Aboli is wise.  He will be with you when I have gone."  "No, Father.
Do not speak of that."

"My son, look to the stars," Sir Francis replied, and Hal hesitated,
uncertain of his meaning.  "You know which is my own star.  I have
shown it to you a hundred times before.  Look for it now in the sign of
the Virgin."

Hal raised his face to the heavens, and turned it to the east where
Regulus still showed, bright and clear.  His eyes ran on past it into
the sign of the Virgin, which lay close beside the Lion, and he gasped,
his breath hissing through his lips with superstitious dread.

His father's sign was slashed from one end to the other by a scimitar
of flame.  A fiery red feather, red as blood.

"A shooting star," he whispered.

"A comet," his father corrected him.  "God sends me a warning.  My time
here draws to its close.  Even the Greeks and the Romans knew that the
heavenly fire is the portent of disaster, of war and famine and plague,
and the death of kings."

"When?"  Hal asked, his voice heavy with dread.

"Soon," replied Sir Francis.  "It must be soon.  Most certainly before
the comet has completed its transit of my sign.  This may be the last
time that you and I will be alone like this."

"Is there nothing that we can do to avert this misfortune?  Can we not
fly from it?"

"We do not know whence it comes," Sir Francis said gravely.  "We cannot
escape what has been decreed.  If we run, then we will certainly run
straight into its jaws."

"We will stay to meet and fight it, then," said Hal, with
determination.

"Yes, we will fight," his father agreed, "even if the outcome has been
ordained.  But that was not why I brought you here.  I want to hand
over to you, this night, your inheritance, those legacies both corporal
and spiritual which belong to you as my only son."  He took Hal's face
between his hands and turned it to him so that he looked into his
eyes.

"After my death, the rank and style of baronet, accorded to your
great-grandfather, Charles Courtney, by good Queen Bess after the
destruction of the Spanish Armada, falls upon you.  You will become Sir
Henry Courtney.  You understand that?"

"Yes, Father."

"Your pedigree has been registered at the College of Arms in England."
He paused as a savage cry echoed down the valley, the sawing of a
leopard hunting along the cliffs in the moonlight.  As the dreadful
rasping roars died away Sir Francis went on quietly, "It is my wish
that you progress through the Order until you attain the rank of
Nautonnier Knight."

"I will strive towards that goal, Father."

Sir Francis raised his right hand.  The band of gold upon his second
finger glinted in the lantern light.  He twisted it off, and held it to
catch the moonlight.  "This ring is part of the regalia of the office
of Nautonnier."  He took Hal's right hand, and tried the ring on his
second finger.  It was too large, so he placed it on his son's
forefinger.  Then he opened the high collar of his cloak, and exposed
the great seal of his office that lay against his breast.  The tiny
rubies in the eyes of the lion rampant of England, and the diamond
stars above it, sparkled softly in the uncertain light.  He lifted -the
chain of the seal from around his own neck, held it high over Hal's
head and then lowered it onto his shoulders.  "This seal is the other
part of the regalia.  It is your key to the Temple."

"I am honoured but humbled by the trust you place in me "There is one
other part to the spiritual legacy I leave for you," Sir Francis said,
as he reached into the folds of his cloak.  "It is the memory of your
mother."  He opened his hand and in his palm lay a locket bearing a
miniature of Edwina Courtney.

The light was not strong enough for Hal to make out the detail of the
portrait, but her face was graven in his mind and in his heart.
Wordlessly he placed it in the breast pocket of his doublet.

"We should pray together for the peace of her soul," said Sir Francis
quietly, and both bowed their heads.  After many minutes Sir Francis
again raised his head.  "Now, it remains only to discuss the earthly
inheritance that I leave to you.  There is firstly High Weald, our
family manor in Devon.  You know that your uncle Thomas administers the
house and lands in my absence.  The deeds of title are with my lawyer
in Plymouth ..."  Sir Francis went on speaking for a long while,
listing and detailing his possessions and estates in England.  "I have
written all this in my journal for you, but that book may be lost or
plundered before you can study it.  Remember all that I have told
you."

"I will not forget any of it, "Hal assured him.

"Then there are the prizes we have taken on this cruise.  You were with
me when we cached the spoils from both the Heerlycke Nacht and from the
Standvastigheid.  When you return with that booty to England, be sure
to pay over to each man of the crew the share he has earned."

"I will do so without fail."

"Pay also every penny of the Crown's share to the King's customs
officers.  Only a rogue would seek to cheat his sovereign."

"I will not fail to render to my king."

"I should never rest easy if I were to know that all the riches that I
have won for you and my king were to be lost.  I require you to make an
oath on your honour as a Knight of the Order," Sir Francis said.  "You
must swear that you will never reveal the whereabouts of the spoils to
any other person.  In the difficult days that lie ahead of us, while
the red comet rules my sign and dictates our affairs, there may be
enemies who will try to force you to break this oath.  You must bear
always in the forefront of your mind the motto of our family.

Durabo!  I shall endure."

"On my honour, and in God's name, I shall endure," Hal promised.  "The
words slipped lightly over his tongue.  He could not know then that
when they returned to him their weight would be grievous and heavy
enough to crush his heart.  or his entire military career Colonel
Cornelius Schreuder had campaigned with native troops rather than with
men of his own race and country.  He much preferred them, for they were
inured to hardship and less likely to be affected by heat and sun, or
by cold and wet.  They were hardened against the fevers and plagues
that struck down the white men who ventured into these tropical climes,
and they survived on less food.  They were able to live and fight on
what frugal fare this savage and terrible land provided, whereas
European troops would sicken and die if forced to undergo similar
privations.

There was another reason for his preference.  Whereas the lives of
Christian troops must be reckoned dear, these heathen could be expended
without such consideration, just as cattle do not have the same value
as men and can be sent to the slaughter without qualm.  Of course, they
were famous thieves and could not be trusted near women or liquor, and
when forced to rely upon their own initiative they were as little
children, but with good Dutch officers over them, their courage and
fighting spirit outweighed these weaknesses.

Schreuder stood on a rise of ground and watched the long column of
infantry file past him.  It was remarkable how swiftly they had
recovered from the terrible affliction of seasickness that only the
previous day had prostrated most of them.  A night's rest on the hard
earth and a few handfuls of dried fish and cakes of sorghum meal baked
over the coals, and this morning they were cheerful and strong as when
they had embarked.  They strode past him on bare feet, following their
white petty-officers, moving easily under their burdens, chattering to
each other in their own tongues.

Schreuder felt more confidence in them now than at any time since they
had embarked in Table Bay.  He lifted his Hat and mopped at his brow.
The sun was only just showing above the tree-tops but already it was
hot as the blast from a baker's oven.  He looked ahead at the hills and
forest that awaited them.  The map that the red-haired Scotsman had
drawn for him was a rudimentary sketch that merely adumbrated the
shoreline and gave no warning of this rugged terrain that they had
encountered.

At first he had marched along the shore, but this proved heavy going
under their packs the men sank ankle deep into sand at each pace. Also,
the open beaches were interspersed with cliffs and rocky capes, which
could cause further delay.  So Schreuder had turned inland and sent his
scouts ahead to find a way through the hills and forest.

At that moment there was a shout from up ahead.  A runner was coming
back down the line.  Panting, the Hottentot drew himself up and saluted
with a flourish.  "Colonel, there is a wide river ahead."  Like most of
these troops he spoke good Dutch.

"Name of a dog!"  Schreuder cursed.  "We will fall further behind and
our rendezvous is only two days from now.  Show me the way."  The scout
led him towards the crest of the hill.

At the top of the slope a steep river valley opened beneath his feet.
The sides were almost two hundred feet deep and densely covered with
forest.  At the bottom the estuary was broad and brown, racing out into
the sea with the tide.  He drew his telescope from its leather case and
carefully scanned the valley where it cut deeply into the hills of the
hinterland.  "There does not seem to be an easier way to cross and I
cannot afford the time to search further."  He looked down at the drop.
"Fix ropes to those trees at the top to give the men purchase on the
slope."  it took them half the morning to get two hundred men down into
the valley.  At one stage a rope snapped under the weight of fifty men
leaning on it to keep their footing as they descended.  However,
although most sustained grazes, cuts and sprains as they rolled down to
the riverbank, there was one serious casualty.  A young Sinhalese
infantryman's right leg caught in a tree root as he fell, and was
fractured in a dozen places below the knee, the sharp splinters of bone
sticking out of his shin.

"Well, we're down with only one man lost," Schreuder told his
lieutenant, with satisfaction.  "It could have been more costly.  We
might have spent days searching for another crossing."

"I will have a litter made for the injured man," Lieutenant Maatzuyker
suggested.

"Are you soft in the head?"  Schreuder snapped.  "He would hold up the
march.  Leave the clumsy fool here with a loaded pistol.  When the
hyena come for him he can make his own decision who to shoot, one of
them or himself.  Enough talk!  Let's get on with the crossing."

From the bank Schreuder looked across a hundred-yard sweep of river,
the surface dimpled with small whirlpools as the outgoing tide spurred
the muddy waters on their race for the sea.

"We will have to build rafts-" Lieutenant Maatzuyker ventured, but
Schreuder snarled, "Nor can I afford the time for that.  Get a rope
across to the other bank.  I must see if this river is fordable."

"The current is strong,"Maatzuyker pointed out tactfully.  "Even a
simpleton can see that, "Maatzuyker.  Perhaps that is why you had no
difficulty in making the observation," said Schreuder ominously.  "Pick
your strongest swimmer!"  " Maatzuyker saluted and hurried down the
ranks of troops.  They guessed what was in store and every one found
something of interest to study in sky or forest, rather than meeting
Maatzuyker's eye.

"Ahmed!"  he shouted at one of his corporals, grabbed his shoulder and
pulled him out of the huddle of men where he was trying to make himself
inconspicuous.

Resignedly Ahmed handed his musket to a man in his troop and began to
strip.  His naked body was hairless and yellow, sheathed in lithe, hard
muscle.

Maatzuyker knotted the rope under his armpits and sent him into the
water.  As Ahmed edged out into the current it rose gradually to his
waist.  Schreuder's hopes for a swift, easy crossing rose with it.
Ahmed's mates on the bank shouted encouragement as they paid out the
line.

Then, when he was almost half-way across, Ahmed stumbled abruptly into
the main channel of the river, and his head disappeared below the
surface.

"Pull him back!"  Schreuder ordered, and they hauled Ahmed back into
the shallower water, where he struggled to regain his footing, snorting
and coughing up the water he had swallowed.

Suddenly Schreuder shouted, with more urgency, "Pull!  Get him out of
the water!"

Fifty yards upstream he had seen a mighty swirl on the surface of the
opaque waters.  Then a swift V-shaped wake sped down the channel to
where the corporal was splashing about in the shallows.  The team on
the rope saw it then and, with yells of consternation, they hauled
Ahmed in so vigorously that he was plucked over backwards and dragged
thrashing and kicking towards the bank.  However, the thing below the
surface moved more swiftly still and arrowed in on the helpless man.

When it was only yards from him its deformed black snout, gnarled and
scaled as a black log, thrust through the surface, and twenty feet
behind the head a crested saurian tail exploded out.  The hideous
monster raced across the gap, and rose high out of the water, its jaws
open to display the ragged files of yellow teeth.

Then Ahmed saw it, and shrieked wildly.  With a crash like a falling
portcullis the jaws closed over his lower body.  Man and beast plunged
below the surface in a whirlpool of creaming foam.  The men on the line
were jerked off their feet and dragged in a struggling heap down the
bank.

Schreuder leapt after them and seized the rope's end.  He took two
turns around his wrist and flung his weight back on the line.  Out in
the brown tide-race there was another boiling explosion of foam as the
huge crocodile, its fangs locked in Ahmed's belly, rolled over and over
at dizzying speed.  The other men on the line recovered their footing
and hung on grimly, There was a sudden stain of red on the brown water
as Ahmed was torn in half, the way a glutton might twist the leg off
the carcass of a turkey.

The bloodstain was whipped away and dissipated downstream by the swift
current, and the straining men fell back as the resistance at the other
end of the rope gave way.  Ahmed's upper torso was dragged ashore, arms
jerking and mouth opening and shutting convulsively, like that of a
dying fish.

Far out in the river the crocodile rose again, holding Ahmed's legs and
lower torso crosswise in its jaws.  It lifted its head to the sky and
gulped and strained to swallow.  As the dismembered carcass slid down
into its maw, they saw it bulge the soft, pale scaly throat.

Schreuder was roaring with rage.  "This foul beast will delay us for
days, if we allow it."  He rounded on the shaken musketeers who were
dragging away Ahmed's sundered corpse.  "Bring that piece of meat back
here!"  They dropped the corpse at his feet and watched in awe as he
stripped off his own clothing, and stood naked before them, flat, hard
muscle rippling his belly and his thick penis jutting out of the mat of
dark hair at its base.  At his impatient order they tied a rope under
his armpits, then handed him a loaded musket with the match burning in
the lock, which Schreuder shouldered.  With his other hand he grabbed
Ahmed's limp dead arm.  An incredulous hum of amazement went up from
the bank as Schreuder stepped into the river dragging the bleeding
remnants with him.  "Come, then, filthy beastV he bellowed angrily, as
the water reached his knees and he kept going.  "You want to eat?
Well, I have something for you to chew on."

A moan of horror burst from every throat as, upstream from where
Schreuder stood, with the water at his hips, there was another
tremendous swirl and the crocodile rushed down-river towards him,
leaving a long slick wake across the brown surface.

Schreuder braced himself and then, with a round-arm swing, hurled the
upper half of Ahmed's dripping, dismembered corpse ahead of him into
the path of the crocodile's flailing charge.  "Eat that!"  he shouted,
as he lifted the musket from his shoulder and levelled it at the human
bait that bobbed only two arms" span ahead of him.

The monstrous head burst through the surface and the mouth opened wide
enough to engulf Ahmed's pitifully shredded remains.  Over the sights
of the gun Schreuder looked down into its gaping jaws.  He saw the
ragged spikes of teeth, still festooned with shreds of human flesh, and
beyond them the lining of the throat, which was a lovely buttercup
yellow.  As the jaws opened, a tough membrane automatically closed off
the throat to prevent water rushing down it into the beast's lungs.

Schreuder aimed into the depths of the open throat and snapped the
lock.  The burning match dropped and there was an instant of delay as
the powder flared in the pan.  Then, as Schreuder held his aim
unwaveringly, came a deafening roar and a long silver-blue spurt of
smoke flew from the muzzle straight down the throat of the crocodile.
Three ounces of antimony-hardened lead pellets drove through the
membrane, tearing through windpipe, artery and flesh, lancing deep into
the chest cavity, ripping through the cold reptilian heart and lungs.

Such a mighty convulsion racked the great lizard that fifteen feet of
its length arched clear of the water and the grotesque head almost
touched the crested tail before it fell back in a tall spout of foam.
Then it rolled, dived and burst out again, swirling in leviathan
contortions.

Schreuder did not pause to watch these hideous death throes, but
dropped the smoking musket and dived headfirst into the deepest part of
the channel.  Relying on the beast's frenzy to confuse and distract any
other of the deadly reptiles, he lashed out towards the far bank with a
full overarm stroke.

"Pay out the rope to him!"  Maatzuyker yelled at the men who stood
paralysed with shock, and they recovered their wits.  Holding it high
to keep it clear of the current they let it out as Schreuder clawed
himself across the channel.

"Look out!"  Maatzuyker shouted, as first one then another crocodile
pushed through the surface.  Their eyes were set on protuberant horny
knuckles so they were able to watch the convulsions of their dying
fellow without exposing the whole of their heads.

The softer splashes thrown up by Schreuder did not attract their
attention until he was only a dozen strokes from the far bank, when one
of the monsters sensed his presence.  It turned and sped towards him,
ripples spreading like a fan on each side of the twin lumps on its
forehead.

"Faster!"  Maatzuyker bellowed.  "He's after you!"  Schreuder redoubled
his stroke as the crocodile closed in swiftly upon him.  Every man on
the bank roared encouragement at him, but the crocodile was only a body
length behind as Schreuder's feet touched the bottom.  It raced in the
last yard as Schreuder flung himself forward and the mighty jaws
snapped closed only inches behind his feet.

Dragging the rope like a tail he staggered towards the tree-line but
still he was not clear of danger for the dragonlike creature raised
itself on its stubby bowed legs as it came ashore, and waddled after
him at a speed that the watchers could hardly credit.  Schreuder
reached the first tree of the forest only feet ahead of it and sprang
for an overhanging branch.  As the snaggle-toothed jaws clashed shut he
was just able to lift his legs beyond their bite and, with the last of
his strength, draw himself higher into the branches.

The frustrated reptile lurked below, circling the hole of the tree.
Then, uttering a hissing roar, it retreated slowly down the bank.  It
carried high its long tail, crested like a gigantic cockscomb, but as
it reached the river it lowered itself and slid back beneath the
surface.

Even before it had disappeared, Schreuder shouted across the river,
"Make your end fast!"  He looped his own rope end around the thick
trunk beside which he was perched, and knotted it.  Then he yelled,
"Maatzuyker!  Get those men busy building a raft.  They can pull
themselves over on the rope against the current."

The hull of the Resolution had been cleaned of weed and, barnacles, and
as the crew paid off AT her hoving lines she righted herself slowly
against the press of the incoming tide.

While she had been careened on the beach, the carpenters had finished
shaping and dressing the new mainmast, and it was at last ready to
step.  It took every hand to carry the long, heavy spar down to the
beach and lift the thick end over the gunwale.  The tackle was made
fast to her other two standing masts, and the slinp were adjusted to
raise the new spar.

With gangs heaving cautiously on the lines, "and Big Daniel and Ned
directing them, they raised the massive length of gleaming pine towards
the vertical.  Sir Francis trusted no one else to supervise the crucial
business of fitting the heel of the mast through the hole in the main
deck and then sliding its length down through the hull to the step on
the keelson of the ship.  It was a delicate operation that needed the
strength of fifty men, and took most of that day.

"Well done, lads!"  Sir Francis told them, when at last the massive
spar slid home the last few inches and the heel clunked heavily into
its prepared step.  "Slack off!"  No longer supported by the ropes, the
fifty-foot mast stood of its own accord.

Big Daniel shouted up to the deck from where he stood waist deep in the
lagoon, "Now woe betide those cheese heads  Ten days from today, we'll
sail her out through the heads, you mark my words."

Sir Francis smiled down at him from the rail.  "Not before we get the
shrouds on that mainmast.  And that will not happen while you stand
there with your mouth open and your tongue wagging."

He was about to turn away when suddenly he frowned at the shore.  The
Governor's wife had come out of the trees, followed by her maid, and
now she stood at the top of the beach, spinning the handle of her
parasol between her long white fingers so it revolved over her head, a
brightly coloured wheel that drew the eye of every man of his crew.
Even Hal, who was overseeing the gang on the foredeck, had turned from
his work to gawk at her like a ninny.  Today she was dressed in a
fetching new costume, cut so low in front that her bosom bulged out
almost to her nipples.

"Mister Courtney," Sir Francis called, loud enough to shame his son in
front of his men, "give a mind to your work.  Where are the wedges to
steady that spar?"

Hal started, and flushed darkly under his tan as he turned from the
rail and seized the heavy mallet.  "You heard the captain," he snapped
at his gang.

"That strumpet is the Eve in this paradise," Sir Francis dropped his
voice, and spoke from the side of his mouth to Aboli at his shoulder.
"I have seen Hal mooning at her before and, sweet heavens, she looks
back at him bold as a harlot with her dugs sticking out.  He is only a
boy."

"You see him through a father's eyes."  Aboli smiled and shook his
head.  "He is a boy no longer.  He is a man.  You told me once that
your holy book speaks of an eagle in the sky and a serpent on a rock,
and a man with a maid."  although Hal could steal little time from his
uties, he responded to Katinka's summons like a salmon returning to its
native river in the spawning season.  When she called him, nothing
could stop him answering.  He ran up the path with his heart keeping
time to his flying feet.  It was almost a full day since last he had
been alone with Katinka, which was much too long for his liking.
Sometimes he was able to sneak away from the camp to meet her twice or
even thrice in a single day.  Often they could be together only for a
few minutes, but that was time enough to get the business done.  The
two wasted little of their precious time together in ceremony or
debate.

They had been forced to find a meeting place other than her hut.  Hal's
midnight visits to the hostage stockade had almost ended in disaster.
Governor van de Velde could not have been sleeping as soundly as his
snores suggested and they had grown careless and rowdy in their love
play.

Roused by his wife's unrestrained cries and Hal's loud responses,
Governor van de Velde seized the lantern and crept up on her hut.
Aboli, on guard without, saw the glimmer of it in time to hiss a
warning, giving Hal a space to snatch up his clothing and duck out of
the hole in the stockade wall, just as van de Velde burst into the hut
with the lantern in one hand and a naked sword in the other.

He had complained bitterly to Sir Francis the following morning.  "One
of your thieving sailors," he accused.

"Is there any item of value missing from your wife's hut?"

Sir Francis wanted to know and, when van de Velde shook his head, he
was heavy with innuendo.  "Perhaps your wife should not make such a
show of her jewels for they excite avaricious thoughts.  In future,
sir, it might be prudent to take better care of all your
possessions."

Sir Francis questioned the off-duty watch, but as the Governor's wife
could supply no description of the intruder she had been fast asleep at
the time the matter was soon dropped.  That had been the last nocturnal
visit Hal dared risk to the stockade.

Instead they had found this secret place to meet.  It was well hidden
but situated close enough to the camp for Hal to be able to respond to
her summons and to reach it in just a few minutes.  He paused briefly
on the narrow terrace in front of the cave, breathing deeply in his
haste and excitement.  He and Aboli had discovered it as they returned
from one of their hunting forays in the hills.  It was not really a
cave, but an overhang where the soft red sandstone had been eroded from
the harder rock strata to form a deep veranda.

They were not the first men to have passed this way.  There were old
ashes in the stone hearth against the back wall of the shelter, and the
low roof was soot-stained.  Littering the floor were the bones of fish
and small mammals, remnants of meals that had been prepared at the
hearth.  The bones were dry and picked clean, and the ashes were cold
and scattered.  The hearth was long disused.

However, these were not the only signs of human occupation.  The rear
wall was covered from floor to roof with a wild and exuberant cavalcade
of paintings.  Horned antelope and gazelle that Hal did not recognize
streamed in great herds across the smooth rock face, hunted by
stick-like human archers with swollen buttocks and incongruously erect
sexual members.  The paintings were childlike and COlourful, the
perspective and the relative size of men and beasts fantastical.  Some
human figures dwarfed the elephant they pursued, and eagles were twice
the size of the herds of black buffalo beneath their outstretched
wings.  Yet Hal was enchanted by them.  Often in the intervals of quiet
between wild bouts of lovemaking, he would lie staring up at these
strange little men as they hunted the game and fought battles with each
other.  At those times he felt a strange longing to know more about the
artists, and these heroic little hunters and warriors they had
depicted.

When he asked Aboli about them, the big black man shrugged disdainfuly.
"They are the San.  Not really men, but little yellow apes.  If you are
ever unfortunate enough to meet one of them, a fate from which your
three gods should protect you, you will find out more about their
poison arrows than their paint pots."

Today the paintings could hold his interest for only a moment, for the
bed of grass that he had laid on the floor against the wall was empty.
This was no surprise, for he was early to the tryst.  Still, he
wondered if she would come or if her summons had been capricious.
Then, behind him, he heard the snap of a -breaking twig from further
down the slope.

He glanced around quickly for a place to hide.  Down one side of the
entrance trailed a curtain of vines, their dark green foliage staffed
with startlingly yellow blossoms) their light, sweet perfume wafting
through the cave.  Hal slipped behind it and shrank back against the
rock wall.

A moment later Katinka sprang lightly onto the terrace outside the
entrance and peered expectantly into the interior.  When she realized
it was empty, her frame stiffened with "anger.  She said one word in
Dutch that, from her regular use of it, he had come to know well.  It
was obscene, and he felt his skin crawl with excitement at the delights
presaged by that word.

Silently he slipped out from his hiding place and crept up behind her.
He whipped one hand over her eyes and, with the other arm around her
waist, lifted her off her feet and ran with her towards the bed of
grass.

Much later Hal lay back on the grass mattress, his naked chest still
heaving and running with sweat.  She nibbled lightly at one of his
nipples as though it were a raisin.  Then she played with the golden
medallion that hung from his neck.

"This is pretty," she murmured.  "I like the red ruby eyes of the lion.
What is it?"  He did not understand this complex question in her
language, and shrugged.  She repeated it slowly and clearly.

"It is something given me by my father.  It has great value to me," he
replied evasively.

"I want it," she said.  "Will you give it to me?"  He smiled lazily. "I
could never do that."

"Do you love me?"  she pouted.  "Are you mad for me?"  "Yes, I love you
madly," he admitted, as with the back of his forearm he wiped the sweat
out of his eyes.

"Then give me the medallion."

He shook his head wordlessly and then, to avoid the looming argument,
he asked, "Do you love me as I love you?"

She gave a merry laugh.  "Don't be a silly goat!  Of course I do not
love you.  Lord Cyclops is the only one I love."  She had nicknamed his
sex after the one-eyed giant of the legend, and to affirm it she
reached down to his groin.  "But even him I do not love when he is so
soft and small."  Her fingers were busy for a moment, and then she
laughed again, this time throatily.  "There now, I love him better
already.  Ah, yes!  Better still.  The bigger he grows, the more I love
him.  I am going kiss him now to show him how much I love him."

She slid the tip of her tongue down over his belly, but as she pushed
her face into the dark bush of his pubic hair, a sound arrested her. It
came rolling in across the lagoon below, and broke in a hundred booming
echoes from the hills.

"Thunder!"  Katinka cried, and sat up.  "I hate thunder.  Ever since I
was a little girl."

"Not thunder!"  Hal said, and pushed her away so roughly that she cried
out again.

"Oh!  You son of a pig, you have hurt me."  But Hal took no heed of her
complaint, and sprang to his feet.  Naked, he rushed to the entrance of
the cave and stared out.  The entrance was situated high enough to
enable him to see over the tops of the forest trees surrounding the
lagoon.  The bare masts of the Resolution towered into the blue noon
sky.  The air was filled with seabirds the thunderous sound had
startled them from the surface of the water and the sunlight sparkled
on their wings so that circling high overhead they seemed to be
creatures of ice and crystal.

A softly rolling bank of mist obscured half the lagoon.  It blanketed
the rocky cliffs of the heads in silvery-blue billows that were
suddenly shot through with strange flickering lights.  But this was not
mist.

The thunder broke again, reaching Hal long after the flare of lights,
the distant sound taking time to reach his ears.  The swirling clouds
thickened, spilling densely and heavily as oil across the lagoon
waters.  Above this cloud bank, the tall masts and sails of two great
ships floated as though suspended above the waters.  He stared at them,
stupefied, as they sailed in serenely between the heads.  Another
broadside broke from the leading ship.  He saw at once that she was a
frigate, her black hull trimmed with white, her gun ports gaping and
the fire and smoke boiling out of her.  High above the smoke banks the
tricolour of the Dutch Republic rippled in the light noon breeze.  In
line behind her the Gull of Moray followed daintily, the colours of St.
George and St.  Andrew and the great red cross of the Temple bedecking
her masts and rigging, her culver ins bellowing out their warlike
chorus.

"Merciful God!  Hal cried.  "Why do not the batteries at the entrance
return their fire?"

Then with his naked eye he saw strange soldiers in green uniform
overrunning the gun emplacements at the foot of the cliffs, their
swords and the steel heads of their pikes flashing in the sunlight as
they slaughtered the gunners, and flung their bodies over the parapets
into the sea below.

"They have surprised our men in the forts.  The Buzzard has led the
Dutch to us, and shown them where our guns are placed."  His voice
trembled with outrage.  "He will pay with his blood for this day, I
swear it."

Katinka sprang up from the grass mattress and ran to the entrance
beside him.  "Look!  It is a Dutch ship, come to rescue me from the den
of your foul pirate father.  I give thanks to God!  Soon I will be away
from this forsaken place and safe at Good Hope."  She danced with
excitement.  "When they hang you and your father from the gibbet on the
parade outside the fort, I shall be there to blow you one last kiss and
to wave you farewell."  She laughed mockingly.

Hal ignored her.  He ran back into the cave, pulled on his clothing
hastily and belted on the Neptune sword.  There will be fighting and
great danger, but you will be safe if you stay here until it is over,"
he told her, and started down.

"You cannot leave me alone here!"  she screamed after him.  "Come back
here, I command you!"

But he took no notice of her pleas and raced down the footpath through
the trees.  I should never have allowed her to tempt me from my
father's side, he lamented silently as he ran.  He warned me of the
danger of the red comet.  I deserve whatever cruel fate awaits me
now.

He was in such distress that he was oblivious to all but the need to
take up his neglected duties and almost ran full tilt into the lines of
skirmishing soldiers moving through the trees ahead of him.  just in
time, he smelt the smoke of their burning match and then picked out
their green doublets and the white cross belts as they wove their way
through the trees of the forest.  He flung himself to the ground and
rolled behind the trunk of a tall wild fig tree.  He peered out from
behind it, and saw that the strange green-clad ranks were moving away
from him, advancing on the encampment, pikes and muskets at the ready,
keeping good order under the direction of a white officer.

Hal heard the officer call softly in Dutch, "Keep your spacing.  Do not
bunch up!"  There could be no doubt now whose troops these were.

The Dutchman's back was still turned, and Hal had a moment's respite to
think.  I must reach the camp to warn my father, but there is not
enough time to find a way round.  I will have to fight my way through
the enemy ranks.  He drew the sword from its scabbard and rose on one
knee, then paused as a thought struck him with force.  We are
outnumbered on land and on the water.  This time there are no fireships
to drive off the Buzzard and the Dutch frigate.  The battle may go hard
for us.

Using the point of his sword, he scratched a hole in the soft, loamy
soil at the base of the wild fig.  Then he slipped the ring from his
finger and the locket with the miniature of his mother from his pocket
and dropped them into the hole.  After that he lifted the seal of the
Nautonnier from his neck and laid it on top of his other treasures.  He
swept the loose soil back over them, and tamped it down with the flat
of his hand.

It had taken him only a minute but when he started to his feet the
Dutch officer had disappeared into the forest ahead.  Hal crept
forward, guided to his quarry by the rustle and crackle of the
undergrowth.  Without their officers these men will not fight so well,
he thought.  If I can take this one I will quench some of the fire in
their bellies.  He slowed as he drew closer to the man he was stalking,
and came up behind the Dutchman as he pushed his way through the
undergrowth, the noise of his progress masking the fainter sounds of
Hal's approach.

The Dutchman was sweating in dark wet patches down the back of his
serge coat.  By his epaulettes Hal realized that he was a lieutenant in
the Company's army.  He was thin and lanky, with angry red pustules
studding the back of his scrawny neck.  He carried his bared sword in
his right hand.  He had not bathed for many days and smelt like a wild
boar.

"On guard, Mij nheer!"  Hal challenged him in Dutch, for he could not
run him through the back.  The lieutenant spun round to face him,
lifting his blade into the guard.

His eyes were pale blue, and they flew wide with shock and fright as he
found Hal so close behind him.  He was not much older than Hal, and his
face blanched with terror, emphasizing the rash of purple acne that
covered his chin.

Hal thrust and their blades rasped as they crossed.  He recovered
swiftly, but with that first light touch he had assessed his
adversary.

The Dutchman was slow and his wrist lacked the snap and power of a
practised swordsman.  His father's words rang in his ears.  "Fight from
the first stroke.  Do not wait until you are angry."  And he gave his
heart over to a cold, murderous rage to kill.  "Ha!"  he grunted, and
feinted high, aiming the point at the Dutch, mans eyes but balanced for
his parry.  The lieutenant was slow to counter, and Hal knew he could
risk the flying attack that Daniel had taught him against such a foe.
He could go for the quick kill.

His wrist tempered to steel by hours with Aboli on the practice deck,
he caught up the Dutchman's blade, and whirled it with a stirring
motion that threw the point off the line of defence.  He had created an
opening, but to exploit it with the flying attack he must open his own
guard and place himself in full jeopardy of the Dutchman's natural
riposte suicide in the face of a skilled opponent.

He committed himself, throwing his weight forward over his left foot,
and sped his point in through the other man's guard.  The riposte came
too late, and Hal's steel spiked through the sweat-stained serge cloth.
It glanced off a rib and then found the gap between them.  Despite the
days he had spent with a sword in his hand this was Hal's first kill
with the cold steel, and he was unprepared for the sensation of his
blade running through human flesh.

It was a soggy, dead feeling, which smothered the speed of his thrust.
Lieutenant Maatzuyker gasped and dropped his own sword as Hal's point
stopped at last against his spine.  He clutched at Hal's razor-sharp
blade with bare hands.  It slashed his palms to the bone, severing the
sinews in a quick flush of bright blood.  His fingers opened
nervelessly, and he sank to his knees staring up into Hal's face with
watery blue eyes, as though he were about to burst into tears.

Hal stood over him, and tugged at the sapphire pommel of the Neptune
sword, but the Toledo blade clung fast in the wet flesh.  Maatzuyker
gasped in agony and held up his mutilated hands in appeal.

"I am sorry," Hal whispered in horror, and heaved again on his sword
hilt.  This time Maatzuyker opened his mouth wide and whimpered.  The
blade had passed through his right lung, and a sudden gout of blood
burst through his pale lips, poured down his coat front and splashed
Hal's boots.

"Oh God!"  Hal muttered, as Maatzuyker toppled backwards with the blade
between his ribs.  For a moment, he stood helplessly, watching the
other man choke on and drown in his own blood.  Then, close behind him,
came a wild shout from the bushes.

A green-jacketed soldier had spotted him.  A musket boomed, the pellets
rattled into the foliage above Hal's head and -sang off the tree trunk
beside him.  He was galvanized.  All along he had known what he must do
but, until that moment, he had not been able to bring himself to do it.
Now he placed his booted heel firmly on Maatzuyker's heaving chest and
leaned back against the resistance of the trapped blade.  He tugged
once and then again with all his weight behind it.  Reluctantly the
blade slid out until suddenly it came free and Hal reeled backwards.

Instantly he recovered his balance and leapt over Maatzuyker's body
just as another musket shot crashed out and the pellets hissed past his
head.  The soldier who had fired was fumbling with his powder flask as
he tried to reload and Hal ran straight at him.  The musketeer looked
up in fright, then dropped his empty weapon and turned his back to
run.

Hal would not use the point again but slashed at the man's neck, just
below his ear.  The razor edge cut to the bone, and the side of his
neck opened like a grinning red mouth.  The man dropped without a
sound.  But all around him the bushes were alive with green-jacketed
figures.  Hal realized there must be hundreds of them.  This was not a
raiding party but a small army attacking the encampment.

He heard shouts of alarm and anger, and now a constant barrage of
musket fire, much of it wild and undirected, but some slashing into the
undergrowth close on either side of him as he ran with all his speed
and strength.  In the midst of the uproar Hal recognized, by its power
and authority, one stentorian voice.

"Get that man!"  it bellowed in Dutch.  "Don't let him get away!  I
want that one."  Hal glanced in the direction from which it was coming,
and almost tripped with the shock of seeing Cornelius Schreuder racing
through the trees to head him off.  His Hat and wig flew from his head,
but the ribbons and sash of his rank were gold.  His shaven head
gleamed like an eggshell.  His moustaches were scored heavily across
his face.  For such a big man, he was fast on his feet, but fear made
Hal faster.

"I want you!"  Schreuder yelled.  "This time you will not get away."

Hal put on a burst of speed and, within thirty flying paces, had forged
ahead to see the stockade of the encampment through the trees.  It was
deserted and he realized that his father and every other man would have
been decoyed away to the lagoon's edge by the heavy fire of the two
warships, and that they must be manning the culver ins in the
emplacements.

"To arms!"  he screamed as he ran, with Schreuder pounding along only
ten paces behind him.  "Rally to me, the Resolution, In your rear!"  As
he burst into camp he saw, with huge relief, Big Daniel and a dozen
seamen responding to his call, rushing back from the beach to support
him.  Immediately Hal rounded on the Dutchman.

"Come, then," he said, and went on guard.  But Schreuder came up short
as he saw the Resolution's men bearing down on him and realized that he
had outrun his own troops, had left them without a leader, and was now
outnumbered twelve to one.

"Again you are lucky, puppy," he snarled at Hal.  "But before this day
ends, you and I will speak again."

Thirty paces behind Hal, Big Daniel pulled up short and lifted the
musket he carried.  He aimed at Schreuder but, as the lock snapped, the
Colonel ducked and spun on his heels, the shot went wide and he bounded
back into the forest, shouting to rally his attacking musketeers as
they came swarming forward through the trees.

"Master Daniel," Hal panted, "the Dutchman leads a strong force.  The
forest is full of men."

"How many?"

"A hundred or more.  There!"  He pointed as the first of the attackers
came running and dodging towards them, stopping to fire and reload
their muskets, then running forward again.

"What's worse, there are two warships in the bay," Daniel told him.
"One is the Gull but the other is a Dutch frigate."  "I saw them from
the hill."  Hal had recovered his breath.

"We are outgunned in front and outnumbered in the rear.  We cannot
stand here.  They will be on us in a minute.  Back to the beach."

The coloured troops behind them clamoured like a pack of hounds as Hal
turned and led his men back at a run.  Ball and shot thrummed and
whistled around them, kicking up spurts of damp earth at their heels,
speeding them on their way.

Through the trees he could see the piled earth of the gun emplacements
and the drifting bank of gunsmoke.  He could make out the heads of his
own gunners as they reloaded the culver ins  Out in the lagoon the
stately Dutch frigate bore down on the shore, wreathed in her own
powder smoke.  As Hal watched, she put her helm over, bringing her
broadside to bear, and again her gun ports bloomed with great flashes
of flame.  Seconds later the thunder of the cannonade and the blast of
howling grape shot swept over them.

Hal flinched in the turmoil of disrupted air, his eardrums singing.
Whole trees crashed down, and branches and leaves rained upon them.
Directly in front of him he saw one of the culver ins hit squarely, and
hurled off its train.  The bodies of two of the Resolution's sailors
were sent spinning high into the air.

"Father, where are you?"  Hal tried to make himself heard in the
pandemonium but then, through it all, he heard Sir Francis's voice.

"Stand to your guns, lads.  Aim at the Dutchmen's ports.  Give those
cheese-heads out there some of our good English cheer."

Hal leapt down into the gun pit beside his father, seized his arm and
shook it urgently.

"Where have you been, boy?"  Sir Francis glanced at him, but when he
saw the blood on his clothing he did not wait for an answer.  Instead
he grunted, "Take command of the guns on the left flank.  Direct your
fire, -" Hal interrupted, in a breathless rush, "The enemy ships are
only creating a diversion, Father.  The real danger is in our rear.
The forest is full of Dutch soldiers, hundreds of them."  He pointed
back with his blood-stained blade.  "They'll be on us in a minute."

Sir Francis did not hesitate.  "Go down the line of guns.  Order every
second culverin to be swung round and loaded with grape.  The front
guns continue to engage the ships, but hold your fire with the back
guns until the attack in our rear is point-blank.  I will give the
order to fire.  Now, go!"  As Hal scrambled out of the pit, Sir Francis
turned to Big Daniel.  "Take these men of yours, and any other loafers
you can find, go back and slow the enemy advance in our rear.  Hal
raced down the line, pausing beside each gun pit to shout his orders
and then running on.  The sound of the barrage and the answering fire
from the beach was deafening and confusing.  He reeled and almost went
sprawling to the ground as another broadside from the black frigate
swept over him like the devil-winds of a typhoon, smashing through the
forest and ploughing the earth around him.  He shook his head to clear
it and ran on, hurdling a fallen tree-trunk.

As he passed each emplacement and alerted the gunners, they began to
train the culver ins around, aiming them back-into the forest.  Back
there they could already hear musket fire and angry shouts as Big
Daniel and his small band of seamen charged into the advancing hordes
that poured from the forest.

Hal reached the gun pit at the end of the line and jumped down beside
Aboli, who was captaining the team of gunners there.  Aboli thrust his
burning match into the touch hole.  The culverin leapt and thundered.
As the stinking smoke swirled back over them, Aboli grinned at Hal, his
dark face stained even darker with soot and his eyes bloodshot with
smoke.  "Ah!  I thought you might never pull your root out of the sugar
field in time to join the fight.  I feared I might have to come up to
the cave, and prise you loose with an iron bar."

"You will grin less happily with a musket ball in your tail feathers,"
Hal told him grimly.  "We are surrounded.  The woods behind us are full
of Dutchmen.  Daniel is holding them, but not for much longer.  There
are hundreds of them.  Train this piece around and load with grape."
While they reloaded, Hal went on giving his orders.  "We'll have time
for only one shot, then we'll charge them in the smoke," he said as he
tamped down the charge with the long ramrod.  As he pulled it out, a
sailor lifted the heavy canvas bag filled with lead shot, and forced it
down the muzzle.  Hal drove it down to sit upon the powder charge. Then
they ducked behind the parapet on both sides of the gun, keeping clear
of the area where the train would recoil, and stared past the stockade
into the forest beyond.  They could hear the ring of steel on steel and
the wild shouts as Daniel's men charged then fell back before the
counter charge of the green-jackets.  Musket fire hammered steadily as
Schreuder's men reloaded and ran forward to fire again.

Now they caught glimpses through the trees of their own seamen coming
back.  Daniel towered above the others.  he was carrying a wounded man
over one shoulder and swinging a cutlass in his other hand.

The green-jackets were pressing him and his party hard.

"Ready now!"  Hal grated at the seamen around him, and they crouched
below the parapet and fingered their pikes and cutlasses.  "Aboli,
don't fire until Daniel is out of the line."

Suddenly Daniel threw down his burden, and turned back.  He raced into
the thick of the enemy, and scattered them with a great swipes of his
cutlass.  Then he ran to the wounded seaman, slung him over his
shoulder and came on again towards where Hal crouched.

Hal glanced down the line of gun pits  Although the forward-pointing
cannon were still banging away at the ships in the lagoon, every second
culverin was directed into the forest, waiting for the moment to loose
a storm of shot into the lines of attacking infantry.

"At such short range the shot will not spread, and they are keeping
their spaces," Aboli muttered.

"Schreuder has them well under control," Hal agreed grimly.  "We can't
hope to bring too many down with a single volley."

"Schreuder!"  Aboli's eyes narrowed.  "You did not tell me it was
him."

"There he is!"  Hal pointed at the tall wig less figure striding
towards them through the trees.  His sash glittered and his moustache
bristled as he urged his musketeers forward.

Aboli grunted, "That one is the devil.  We'll have trouble from him."
He thrust an iron bar under the culverin and turned it round a few
degrees, trying to bring the sights to bear on the colonel.

"Stand still," he urged, "for just long enough to give me a shot."

But Schreuder was moving up and down the ranks of his men, waving them
on.  He was so close now that his voice carried to Hal as he snapped at
his men, "Keep your line!  Keep the advance going.  Steady now, hold
your fire!"  His control over them was apparent in the determined but
measured advance.  They must have been aware of the line of waiting
guns, but they came forward without wavering, holding their fire, not
wasting the one fair shot they carried in their muskets.

They were close enough for Hal to make out their individual features.
He knew that the Company recruited most of its troops in its eastern
colonies, and this was apparent in the Asiatic faces of many of the
advancing soldiers.  Their eyes were dark and almond-shaped and their
skins a deep amber.

Suddenly Hal realized that the broadsides from the two warships had
ceased and snatched a glance over his shoulder.  He saw that both the
black frigate and the Gull had anchored a cable's length or so off the
beach.  Their guns were silent, and Hal realized that Cumbrae and the
frigate captain must have arranged with Schreuder a code of signals.
They had ceased firing for fear of hitting their own men.

That gives us a breathing space, he thought, and looked ahead again.

He saw that Daniel's band was much depleted.  they had lost half their
number, and the survivors were clearly exhausted by their foray and the
fierce skirmishing.  Their gait was erratic many could barely drag
themselves along.  Their shirts were sodden with sweat and the blood
from their wounds.  One at a time they stumbled up and flopped over the
parapet to lie panting in the bottom of the pit.

Daniel alone was indefatigable.  He passed the wounded man over the
parapet to the gunners and, so murderous was his mood, would have
turned back and rushed at the enemy once more had not Hal stopped him.
"Get back here, you great ox!  Let us soften them up with a little
grape shot.  Then you can have at them again."

Aboli was still trying to line up the barrel on Schreuder's elusive
shape.  "He is worth fifty of the others," he muttered to himself, in
his own language.  Hal, though, was no longer paying him any heed, but
trying anxiously to catch a glimpse of his father in the furthest
emplacement, and take a lead from him.

"By God, he's letting them get too close!"  he fretted.  "A longer shot
would give the grape a chance to spread, but I'll not open fire before
he gives the order."

Then he heard Schreuder's voice again.  "Front rank!  Prepare to fire!"
Fifty men dropped obediently to their knees, right in front of the
parapet, and grounded the butts of their muskets.

"Ready now, men!"  Hal called softly to the sailors crowded around him.
He had realized why his father had delayed the salvo of culverin until
this moment.  he had been waiting for the attackers to discharge their
muskets, and then he would have them at a fleeting disadvantage as they
tried to reload.

"Steady now!"  Hal repeated.  "Wait for their volley!"  "Present your
arms!"  Schreuder's command rang out in the sudden silence.  "Take your
aimV The file of kneeling men lifted their muskets and aimed at the
parapet.  The blue smoke from the slow-match in the locks swirled about
their heads, and they slitted their eyes to aim through it.  "Heads
down!"  Hal yelled.

The seamen in the gun pits ducked below the parapet, just as Schreuder
roared, "Fire!"  The long, ragged volley of musketry rattled down the
file of kneeling men, and lead balls hissed over the heads of the
gunners and thumped into the earth ramp.  Hal leapt to his feet and
looked down to the far end of the line of gun pits  He saw his father
jump onto the parapet, brandishing his sword, and, although it was too
far for his order to carry clearly, his gestures were unmistakable.

"Fire!"  yelled Hal at the top of his lungs, and the line of guns
erupted in a solid blast of smoke, flame and buzzing grape shot.  It
swept through the thin green line of Dutch infantry at point-blank
range.

Directly in front of him Hal saw one of them hit by the full fury of
the volley.  He disintegrated in a burst of torn green serge and pink
shredded flesh.  His head spun high in the air, then fell back to earth
and rolled like a child's ball.  After that, all was obscured by the
dense cloud of smoke, but though his ears still sang from the
thunderous discharge, Hal could hear the screams and moans of the
wounded resounding in the reeking blue fog.

"All together!"  Hal shouted, as the smoke began to clear.  "Take the
steel to them now, lads!"

After the mind-stopping blast of the guns their voices were thin and
puny as they rose together from the gun pits  "For Franky and King
Charley!"  they shouted, and the steel of cutlass and pike winked and
twinkled as they jumped from the parapet and charged at the shattered
rank of green uniforms.

Aboli was at Hal's left side and Daniel at his right as he led.  them
into the attack.  By unspoken agreement the two big men, one white the
other black, placed protective wings over Hal but they had to run at
their best speed to keep up with him.

Hal saw that his misgivings had been fully borne out.  The volley of
grape had not wrought the devastation among the Dutch infantry that
they might have hoped for.  The range had been too short.  five hundred
lead balls from each culverin had cut through them like a single charge
of round shot.  Men caught by the discharge had been obliterated, but
for every one blown to nothingness, five others were unscathed.

These survivors were stunned and bewildered, their eyes dazed and their
expressions blank.  Most knelt blinking and shaking their heads, making
no attempt to reload their empty muskets.

"Have at them, before they pull themselves together!"  Hal screamed,
and the seamen following him cheered again more lustily.  In the face
of the charge the musketeers started to recover.  Some leapt to their
feet, flung down their empty guns and drew their swords.  One or two
petty officers had pistols tucked in their belts, which they drew and
fired wildly at the seamen who rushed down on them.  A few turned their
backs and tried to flee back among the trees, but Schreuder was there
to head them off.  "Back, you dogs and sons of dogs.  Stand your ground
like men!"  They turned again, and formed up around him.

Every man of the Resolution's crew who could still stand on his feet
was in that charge even the wounded hobbled along behind the rest,
cheering as loudly as their comrades.

The two lines came together and immediately all was confusion.  The
solid rank of attackers split up into little groups of struggling men,
mingled with the green serge coats of the Dutch.  All around Hal
fighting men were cursing, shouting and hacking at each other.  His
existence closed in, became a circle of angry, terrified faces and the
clatter of steel weapons, most already dulled with new gore.

A green-jacket stabbed a long pike at Hal's face.  He ducked under it
and, with his left hand, seized the shaft just behind the spearhead.

When the musketeer heaved back, Hal did not resist but used the impetus
to launch his counter-attack, leading with the Neptune sword in his
right hand.  He aimed at the straining yellow throat above the high
green collar, and his point slid in cleanly.  As the man dropped the
pike and fell back, Hal allowed the weight of his dropping body to pull
him free of the blade.

Hal went smoothly back on guard, and glanced quickly around for his
next opponent, but the charge of seamen had almost wiped out the file
of musketeers.  Few were left standing, and they were surrounded by
clusters of attackers.

He felt his spirits soar.  For the first time since he had seen those
two ships sail into the lagoon, he felt that there was a chance that
they might win this fight.  In these last few minutes, they had broken
up the main attack.  Now they had only to deal with the sailors from
the Dutch frigate and the Gull as they tried to come ashore.

"Well done, lads.  We can do it!  We can thrash them," he shouted, and
the seamen who heard him cheered again.

Looking about him, he could see triumph on the face of every one of his
men as they cut down the last of the green-jackets.  Aboli was laughing
and singing one of his pagan war-chants in a voice that carried over
the din of the battle and inspired every man who heard it.

They cheered him and themselves, rejoicing deliriously, in the ease of
their victory.

Daniel's tall figure loomed at Hal's right side.  His face and thick
muscular arms were speckled with blood thrown from the wounds he had
inflicted on his victims, and his mouth was wide open as he laughed
ferociously, showing his carious teeth.

"Where is Schreuder?"  Hal yelled, and Daniel sobered instantly.  The
laughter died as his mouth snapped shut and he glared around the
quietening battlefield.

Then Hal's question was answered unequivocally by Schreuder himself.
"Second wave!  Forward!"  he bellowed lustily.  He was standing on the
edge of the forest, only a hundred paces from them.  Hal, Aboli and
Daniel started towards him, then came up short as another massed column
of green-jackets poured out of the forest from behind where Schreuder
stood.

"By God!"  Hal breathed in despair.  "We haven't-seen the half of them
yet.  The bastard has kept his main force in reserve."

"There must be two hundred of the swine!"  Daniel shook his head in
disbelief.

"Quarter columns!"  Schreuder shouted, and the advancing infantry
changed their formation.  they spread out behind him three deep in
precisely spaced ranks.  Schreuder led them forward at a trot, their
ranks neatly dressed and their weapons advanced.  Suddenly he held his
sword high to halt them.  "First rank!  Prepare to fire!"  His men sank
to their knees, while behind them the other two ranks stood -steady.

"Present your arms!"  A line of muskets was raised and levelled at the
knots of dumbstruck seamen.

"Fire!"  roared Schreuder.

The volley crashed out.  From a distance of only fifty paces it swept
through Hal's men, and almost every shot told.  Men dropped and
staggered as the heavy lead pellets struck.  The line of Englishmen
reeled and wavered.  There was a chorus of yells of pain and anger and
fear.

"Charge!"  Hal cried.  "Don't stand and let them shoot you down!"  He
lifted the Neptune sword high.  "Come on, lads.  Have at them!"

On each side of him Aboli and Daniel started forward, but most of the
others hung back.  It was dawning on them that the fight was lost, and
many looked back towards the safety of the gun emplacements.  That was
a dangerous signal.  Once they glanced over their shoulders it was all
up.

"Second rank," shouted Schreuder, "prepare to fire!"  Fifty more
musketeers stepped forward, their weapons loaded and the matches
burning.  They walked through the gaps in the kneeling rank that had
just fired, advanced another two paces in a brisk businesslike manner,
then knelt.

"Present your arms!"  Even Hal and the dauntless pair flanking him
wavered as they gazed into the muzzles of fifty levelled muskets, while
a moan of fear and horror went up from their men.  They had never
before faced such disciplined troops.

"Fire!"  Schreuder dropped his sword, and the next volley slashed into
the wavering seamen.  Hal flinched as a ball passed his ear so closely
that the wind of it flipped a curl of his hair into his eyes.

At his side Daniel gasped, "I am struck!"  jerked around like a
marionette and sat down heavily.  The volley had knocked over another
dozen of the Resolution's men and wounded as many more.  Hal stooped to
aid Daniel, but the big boatswain growled, "Don't dither about here,
you fool.  Run!  We're beaten, and there's another volley coming."

As if to prove his words, Schreuder's next orders rang out close at
hand.  "Third rank, present your arms!"

All around them the Resolution's men who were still on their feet,
broke and scattered in the face of the levelled muskets, running.  and
staggering towards the gun pits

"Help me, Aboli," Hal shouted, and Aboli grabbed Daniel's other arm.
Between them they hauled him to his feet and started back towards the
beach.

"Fire!"  Schreuder shouted, and at that instant, not waiting for a word
from each other, Hal and Aboli flung themselves flat to earth, pulling
Daniel down with them.  The gunsmoke and the shot of the third volley
crashed over their heads.  Immediately they sprang up again and,
dragging Daniel, ran for the shelter of the pits.

"Are you hit?"  Aboli grunted at Hal, who shook his head, saving his
breath.  Few of his seamen were still on their feet.  Only a handful
had reached the line of gun pits and jumped into their shelter.

Half carrying Daniel, they staggered on, while behind them there were
jubilant cheers, and the green-clad musketeers surged forward,
brandishing their weapons.  The three reached the gun pit and pulled
Daniel down into it.

There was no need to ask of his wound for the whole of his left side
ran red with blood.  Aboli jerked the cloth from around his head,
wadded it into a ball and stuffed it hurriedly into the front of
Daniel's shirt.

"Hold that on the wound," he told Daniel.  "Press as hard as you can."
He left him lying on the floor of the pit, and stood up beside Hal.

"Oh, sweet Mary!"  Hal whispered.  His sweat-streaked face was pale
with horror and fury at what he beheld over the parapet.  "Look at
those bloody butchers!"

As the green-jackets came clamouring forward, they paused only to stab
the wounded seamen who lay in their path.  Some of their victims rolled
on their backs and lifted their bare hands to try to ward off the
thrust, others screamed for mercy and tried to crawl away but, laughing
and hooting, the musketeers ran after them, thrusting and hacking. This
bloody work was quickly done, with Schreuder bellowing at them to close
up and keep advancing.

In this moment of respite Sir Francis came dodging down the line and
jumped into the pit beside his son.

"We are beaten, Father!"  Hal said, dispiritedly, and they looked
around at their dead and wounded.  "We have lost over half our men
already."

"Hal is right," Aboli agreed.  "It is over.  We must try to get
away."

"Where to?"  Sir Francis asked, with a grim smile.  "That way?"  He
pointed through the trees towards the lagoon, where they saw-boats
speeding in towards the beach, driven by the oars of enemy sailors
eager to join the fight.

Both the frigate and the Gull had lowered their boats which were
crowded with men.  Their cutlasses were drawn and the smoke of their
matchlocks blued the air, trailing out across the surface of the
water.

They were shouting and cheering as wildly as the green-jackets in
front.

As the first boats touched the beach the armed men spilled out of them
and raced across the narrow strip of white sand.  Howling with savage
zeal, they stormed at the line of gun pits in which the empty culver
ins gaped silently, and the Resolution's remaining crew cowered
bewildered.

"We cannot hope for quarter, lads," Sir Francis shouted.  "Look at what
those bloodthirsty heathen do to those who try to yield to them."  With
his sword he indicated the corpses of the murdered men that littered
the ground in front of the guns.  "One more cheer for King Charley, and
we'll go down fighting!"

The voices of his tiny band were small and hoarse with exhaustion as
they dragged themselves over the parapet once more and sallied out to
meet the charge of two hundred eager musketeers.  Aboli was a dozen
paces ahead, and hacked at the first green-jacket in his path.  His
victim went down under the blow but Aboli's blade snapped off at the
hilt.  He tossed it aside, stooped and picked up a pike from the dead
hands of one of the fallen English seamen.

As Hal and Sir Francis ran up beside him, he hefted the long oak shaft
and thrust at the belly of another musketeer who rushed at him with his
sword held high.  The pike head caught him just under the ribs and
transfixed him, standing out half an arm's length between his shoulder
blades.  The man struggled like a fish on a gaff, and the heavy shaft
snapped off in Aboli's hands.  He used the stub like a cudgel to strike
down the third musketeer who rushed at him.  Aboli looked around,
grinning like a crazed gargoyle, his great eyes rolling in their
sockets.

Sir Francis was engaged with a white Dutch sergeant, trading cut for
thrust, their blades clanking and rasping against each other.

Hal killed a corporal with a single neat thrust into his throat, then
glanced at Aboli.  "The men from the boats will be on us in an
instant."  They could hear wild cries in their rear as the enemy seamen
swept over the gun pits dealing out short shrift to the few men hiding
there.  Hal and Aboli did not need to look back they both knew it was
over.

"Farewell, old friend," Aboli panted.  "They were good times.  Would
that they had lasted longer."

Hal had no chance to reply, for at that moment a hoarse voice said in
English, "Hal Courtney, you bold puppy, your luck has just this moment
ended."  Cornelius Schreuder pushed aside two of his own men and strode
forward to face Hal.

"You and me!"  he shouted and came in fast, leading with his right
foot, taking the quick double paces of the master swordsman, recovering
instantly from each of the swift series of thrusts with which he drove
Hal backwards.

Hal was shocked anew at the power in those thrusts, and it taxed all
his skill and strength to meet and parry them.  The Toledo steel of his
blade rang shrilly under the mighty blows and he felt despair as he
realized that he could not hope to hold out against such magisterial
force.

Schreuder's eyes were blue, cold and merciless.  He anticipated each of
Hal's moves, offering him a wall of glittering steel when once he
attempted the riposte, beating his blade aside then coming on again
remorselessly.

Close by, Sir Francis was absorbed in his own duel and had not seen
Hal's deadly predicament.  Aboli had only the stump of the pike-shaft
in his hand no weapon with which to take on a man like Cornelius
Schreuder.  He saw Hal, his immature strength already spent by his
earlier exertions, wilting visibly before the overwhelming force of
these attacks.

Aboli knew by Schreuder's expression when he judged his moment and
gathered himself to make the kill.  It was certain, inevitable, for Hal
could never withstand the thunderbolt which was ready to loose itself
upon him.

Aboli moved with the speed of a striking black cobra, faster even than
Schreuder could send home his final thrust.  He darted up behind Hal,
and lifted the oak club.  He struck Hal down with a crack over his ear,
rapping him sharply across the temple.

Schreuder was amazed to have his victim drop to the ground, senseless,
just as he was about to launch the death thrust.  While he hesitated
Aboli dropped the shattered pike-shaft and stood protectively over
Hal's inert body.

"You cannot kill a fallen man, Colonel.  Not on the honour of a Dutch
officer.  ""You black Satan!"  Schreuder roared with frustration.  "If
I can't kill the puppy, at least I can kill you."

Aboli showed him his empty hands, holding up his pale palms before
Schreuder's eyes.  "I am unarmed," he said softly.

"I would spare an unarmed Christian."  Schreuder glared.  "But you are
a godless animal."  He drew back his blade and aimed the point at the
centre of Aboli's chest, where the muscles glistened with sweat in the
sunlight.  Sir Francis Courtney stepped lightly in front of him,
ignoring the colonel's blade.

"On the other hand, Colonel Schreuder, I am a Christian gentleman," he
said smoothly, "and I yield myself and my men to your grace."  He
reversed his own sword and proffered the hilt to Schreuder.

Schreuder glared at him, speechless with fury and frustration.  He made
no move to accept Sir Francis's sword, but placed the point of his
weapon on the other man's throat and pricked him lightly.  "Stand
aside, or by God I'll cut you down, Christian or heathen."  The
knuckles of his right hand turned white on the hilt of his weapon as he
prepared himself to make good the threat.

Another hail made him hesitate.  "Come now, Colonel, I am loath to
interfere in a matter of honour.  If you murder the brother of my
bosom, Franky Courtney, then who will lead us to the treasure from your
fine galleon the Standvastigheid?"

Schreuder's gaze flicked to the face of Cumbrae as he came striding up
to them, the great blood-streaked claymore in his hand.

"The cargo?"  Schreuder demanded.  "We have captured this pirate's
nest.  We will find the treasure is here."

"Now don't you be so certain of that."  The Buzzard waggled his bushy
red beard sadly.  "If I know my dear brother in Christ, Franky, he'll
have squirrel led the best part of it away somewhere."  His eye glinted
greedily from under his bonnet.  "No, Colonel, you are going to have to
keep him alive, at least until we have been able to recompense
ourselves with a handful of silver rix-dollars for doing God's work
this day."

When Hal recovered consciousness, he found his father kneeling over
him.  He whispered, "What happened, Father?  Did we win?"  His father
shook his head, without looking into his eyes, and made a fuss of
wiping the sweat and soot from his son's face with a strip of grubby
cloth torn from the hem of his own shirt.

"No, Hal.  We did not win."  Hal looked beyond him, and it all came
back.  He saw that a pitiful few of the Resolution's crew had survived.
They were huddled together around where Hal lay, guarded by
green-jackets with loaded muskets.  The rest were scattered where they
had fallen in front of the gun pits or were draped in death upon the
parapets.

He saw that Aboli was tending Daniel, binding up the wound in his chest
with the red bandanna.  Daniel was sitting up and seemed to have
recovered somewhat, although clearly he had lost a great deal of
blood.

His face beneath the grime of battle was as white as the ashes of last
night's camp-fire.

Hal turned his head and saw Lord Cumbrae and Colonel Schreuder standing
nearby, in deep and earnest conversation.  The Buzzard broke off at
last and shouted an order to one of his men.  "Geordie, bring the slave
chains from the Gull!  We don't want Captain Courtney to leave us
again."  The sailor hurried back to the beach, and the Buzzard and the
colonel came to where the prisoners squatted under the muskets of their
guards.

"Captain Courtney."  Schreuder addressed Sir Francis ominously.  "I am
arresting you and your crew for piracy on the high seas.  You will be
taken to Good Hope to stand trial on those charges."

"I protest, sir."  Sir Francis stood up with dignity.  "I demand that
you treat my men with the consideration due to prisoners of war."

"There is no war, Captain," Schreuder told him icily.  "Hostilities
between the Republic of Holland and England ceased under treaty some
months ago."

Sir Francis stared at him, aghast, while he recovered from the shock of
this news.  "I was unaware that a peace had been concluded.  I acted in
good faith," he said at last, "but in any event I was sailing under a
commission from His Majesty."

"You spoke of this Letter of Marque during our previous meeting.  Will
you consider me presumptuous if I insist on having sight of the
document?"  Schreuder asked.

"My commission from His Majesty is in my sea-chest in my hut."  Sir
Francis pointed into the stockade, where many of the huts had been
destroyed by cannon fire.  "If you will allow me I will bring it to
you."

"Please don't discommode yourself, Franky my old friend."  The Buzzard
clapped him on the shoulder.  "I'll fetch it for you."  He strode away
and ducked into the low doorway of the hut that Sir Francis had
indicated.

Schreuder rounded on him again.  "Where are you holding your hostages,
sir?  Governor van de Velde and his poor wife, where are they?"

"The Governor must still be in his stockade with the other hostages,
his wife and the captain of the galleon.  I have not seen them since
the beginning of the fight."

Hal stood up shakily, holding the cloth to his head.  "The Governor's
wife has taken refuge from the fighting in a cave in the hillside, up
there."

"How do you know that?"  Schreuder asked sharply.

"For her own safety, I led her there myself."  Hal spoke up boldly,
avoiding his father's stern eye.  "I was returning from the cave when I
ran into you in the forest, Colonel."

Schreuder looked up the hill, torn by duty and the desire to rush to
the aid of the woman whose rescue was, for him at least, the main
object of this expedition.  But at that moment the Buzzard swaggered
out of the hut.  He carried a roll of parchment tied with a scarlet
ribbon.  The royal seals of red wax dangled from it.

Sir Francis smiled with satisfaction and relief.  "There you have it,
Colonel.  I demand that you treat me and my crew as honourable
prisoners, captured in a fair fight."

Before he reached them, the Buzzard paused and unrolled the parchment.
He held up the document at arm's length, and turned it so that all
could see the curlicue script penned by some clerk of the Admiralty in
black indian ink.  At last, with a jerk of his head, he summoned one of
his own seamen.  He took the loaded pistol from the man's hand, and
blew upon the burning match in the lock.  Then he grinned at Sir
Francis and applied the flame to the foot of the document in his
hand.

Sir Francis stood appailled as the flame caught and the parchment began
to curl and blacken as the pale yellow flame ran up it.  "By God,
Cumbrae, you treacherous bastard!"  He started forward, but the tip of
Schreuder's blade lay on his chest.

"It would give me the greatest pleasure to thrust home," he murmured.
"For your own sake, do not try my patience any further, sir."

"That swine is burning my commission."

"I can see nothing," Schreuder told him, his back deliberately turned
to the Buzzard.  "Nothing, except a notorious pirate standing before me
with the blood of innocent men still warm and wet on his hands."

Cumbrae watched the parchment burn, a great wide grin splitting his
ginger whiskers.  He passed the crackling sheet from hand to hand as
the heat reached his fingertips, turning it to allow the flames to
consume every scrap.

"I have heard you prate of your honour, sit," Sir Francis flared at
Schreuder.  "It seems that that is an illusory commodity."

"Honour?"  Schreuder smiled coldly.  "Do I hear a pirate speak to me of
honour?  It cannot be.  Surely my ears play me false."

Cumbrae allowed the flames to lick the tips of his fingers before he
dropped the last blackened shred of the document to the earth and
stamped on the ashes, crushing them to powder.  Then he came up to
Schreuder.  "I am afraid Franky's up to his tricks again.  I can find
no Letter of Marque signed by the royal hand."

"I suspected as much."  Schreuder sheathed his sword.  "I place the
prisoners in your charge, my lord Cumbrae.  I must see to the welfare
of the hostages."  He glanced at Hal.  "You will take me immediately to
the place where you left the Governor's wife."  He looked round at his
Dutch sergeant who stood attentively at his shoulder.  "Bind his hands
behind his back and put a rope round his neck.  Lead him on a leash
like the mangy puppy he is."

Colonel Schreuder delayed the rescue expedition while a search was
conducted for his lost wig.  His vanity would not allow him go to
Katinka in a state of disarray.  They found it lying in the forest
through which he had chased Hal.  It was covered with damp earth and
dead leaves, but Schreuder beat it against his thigh then -rearranged
the curls carefully before placing it on his head.  His beauty and
dignity restored, he nodded at Hal.  "Show us the way!"

By the time they came out on the terrace in front of the cave Hal was a
sorry object.  Both hands were trussed behind his back and the sergeant
had another rope round his neck.  His face was blackened with dirt and
gunsmoke and his clothing torn and smeared with blood diluted with his
own sweat.  Despite his exhaustion and distress, his concern was still
for Katinka, and he felt a tremor of alarm as he went into the cave.

There was no sign of her.  I cannot live if anything has happened to
her, he thought, but aloud he told Schreuder, "I left Mevrouw van de
Velde here.  No ill can have befallen her."

"For your sake, you had better be correct in that."  The threat was
more terrifying for having been uttered so softly.  Then Schreuder
raised his voice.  "Mevrouw van de Velde!"  he called.  "Madam, you are
safe.  It is Colonel Schreuder, come to rescue you!"  The vines veiling
the entrance to the cave rustled softly, and Katinka stepped out
timidly from behind them.  Her huge violet eyes were brimming with
tears, and her face was pale and tragic, adding to her appeal.
"Oh!"she choked with emotion.  Then, dramatically, she held out both
hands towards Cornelius Schreuder.  "You came!  You kept your promise!"
She flew to him and stood on tiptoe to fling both her slim arms round
his neck.  "I knew you would come!  I knew you would never leave me to
be humiliated and molested by these dreadful criminals."

For one moment Schreuder was taken aback by her embrace, then he folded
her in his arms, shielding and comforting her as she sobbed against the
ribbons and sashes that covered his chest.  "If you have suffered the
slightest affront, I swear I will avenge it a hundredfold."

"My ordeal has been too terrible to relate," she whimpered.

"This one?"  Schreuder looked at Hal and demanded, "Was he one of those
who mistreated you?"

Katinka looked sideways at Hal, her cheek still pressed against
Schreuder's chest.  Her eyes narrowed viciously and a small sadistic
smile twisted her luscious lips.  "He was the worst of all."  She
sobbed.  "I cannot bring myself to tell you what disgusting things he
said to me, or how he has harassed and humiliated me."  Her voice
broke.  "I only thank God for the strength that he gave me to hold out
against that man's importunity."

Schreuder seemed to swell with the strength of his fury.  Gently he set
Katinka aside, then turned on Hal.  He bunched his right fist and
punched him hard in the side of his head.  Hal was taken by surprise,
and staggered back.  Schreuder followed him swiftly, and his next punch
caught Hal in the pit of his stomach, driving the wind from his lungs
and doubling him over.

"How dare you insult and mistreat a high-born lady?"  Schreuder was
shaking with fury.  He had lost all control of his temper.

Hal's forehead was almost touching his knees, as he gasped and wheezed
to recover his breath.  Schreuder aimed a kick at his face, but Hal saw
it coming and jerked his head aside.  The boot glanced off his
shoulder, and sent him reeling backwards.

Schreuder's rage boiled over.  "You are not fit to lick the soles of
this lady's slippers."  He braced himself to punch again, but Hal was
too quick.  Although his hands were tied behind his back he stepped
forward to meet Schreuder and aimed a kick at his groin, but because he
was hampered by his bonds the kick lacked power.

Schreuder was more startled than hurt.  "By God, puppy, you go too
far!"  Hal was still off-balance, and Schreuder's next blow knocked his
legs out from under him.  He collapsed and Schreuder set on him, using
both feet, his boots thumping into Hal's curled-up body.  Hal grunted
and rolled over, trying desperately to avoid the barrage of kicks that
slogged into him.

"Yes!  Oh, yes!"  Katinka trilled with excitement.  "Punish him for
what he has done to me."  She goaded Schreuder, driving his violent
temper to its limit.  "Make him suffer, as I was made to do."

Hal knew in his heart that she was forced to reject him now in front of
this man and even in his hurt he forgave her.  He doubled over to
protect his more vulnerable parts, taking most of the kicks on his
shoulders and thighs, but he could not ride them all.  One caught him
in the side of the mouth and blood trickled down his chin.

Katinka squeaked and clapped her hands to see it flow.  "I hate him.
Yes!  Hurt him!  Smash his pretty, insolent face!"  But the blood
seemed to bring Schreuder to his senses again.  With an obvious effort,
he curbed his wild temper and stepped back, breathing heavily and still
trembling with rage.  "That is just a small taste of what is in store
for him.  Believe me, Mevrouw, he will be paid out in full when we
reach Good Hope."  He turned back to Katinka and bowed.  "Please let me
take you back to the safety of the ship that waits in the bay."

Katinka gave a pathetic little cry, her fingers on her soft pink lips.
"Oh, Colonel, I fear I shall swoon."  She swayed on her feet, and
Schreuder leapt forward to steady her.  She leant against him.  "I do
not think my legs can carry me."

He swept her into his arms, and set off down the hill carrying her
lightly.  She clung to him as though she were a child being taken to
her bed.

"Come along, gallows-bait!"  The sergeant yanked Hal to his feet by the
loop around his neck, and led him, still bleeding, down towards the
camp.  "Better for you had the Colonel finished you off here and now.
The executioner at Good Hope is famous.  He's an artist, he is."  He
tugged hard on the rope.  "He'll have some sport with you, I'll
warrant."

They brought the chains to the beach where the survivors of the
Resolution's crew, both Awounded and unharmed, were squatting under
guard in the blazing sun.

They carried the first set to Sir Francis.  "It's good to see you
again, Captain."  The sailor with the irons in his hands stood over
him.  "I have thought of you every day since last we met."  on the
other hand, I have never given you another thought, Sam Bowles."  Sir
Francis barely glanced at him, but scorn was in his voice.

"It's Boatswain Sam Bowles, now.  His lordship has promoted me, "said
Sam, with an insolent grin.

"Then I wish the Buzzard joy of his new boatswain.  "Tis a marriage
made in heaven."

"Hold out your hands, Captain.  Let's see how high and mighty you are
with bracelets of iron on you, Sam Bowles gloated.  "By Christ, you'll
never know how much pleasure this gives me."  He snapped the shackles
onto Sir Francis's wrists and ankles, and with the key screwed them so
tight that they bit into his flesh.  "I hope that fits you as well as
your fancy cloak ever did."  He stepped back and spat suddenly into Sir
Francis's face, then burst out laughing.  "I give you my solemn promise
that, the day they reef your top sails for you, I will be at the Parade
at Good Hope to wish you Godspeed.  I wonder what way they will send
you.  Do you think it will be the fire, or will they hang and draw
you?"  Sam chuckled again and went on to Hal.  "Good day to you, young
Master Henry.  It's your humble servant Boatswain Sam Bowles come to
tend to your needs."

"I did not get a glimpse of your yellow hide during the fighting," Hal
said quietly.  "Where were you hiding this time?"  Sam flushed and
swung the handful of heavy chains against Hal's head.  Hal recovered
and stared coldly into his eyes.  Sam would have struck again, but a
huge black hand reached up and seized his wrist.  He looked down into
the smoky eyes of Aboli, who crouched beside Hal.  Aboli said not a
word but Sam Bowles stayed the blow.  He could not hold that murderous
stare, and dropped his eyes, keeping them averted as he knelt hurriedly
to clamp the chains on Hal's limbs.

He stood up and came to Aboli, who watched him with the same
expressionless gaze as he hurriedly screwed the shackles onto him, then
passed on to where Big Daniel lay.  Daniel winced but uttered no sound
as Sam Bowles tugged brutally at his arms.  The bullet wound had
stopped bleeding, but with this rough treatment it opened again and
began to weep watery blood from under the red head cloth  that Aboli
had used to bandage it.  The blood trickled over his chest and dripped
into the sand.

When they were all shackled together they were ordered to their feet.
Supporting him between them, Hal and Aboli half carried Daniel as they
were led in a file to one of the larger trees.  Again they were forced
to sit while the end of the chain was passed around the trunk and made
fast with two heavy iron padlocks.

There were only twenty-six survivors from the Resolution's complement.
Among these were four ex slaves, of which Aboli was one.  Nearly all
were at least lightly wounded, but four, including Daniel, were gravely
injured and must be in danger of their lives.

Ned Tyler had received a deep cutlass slash in his thigh.  Hampered by
their manacles, Hal and Aboli bound it up with another strip of cloth
salvaged from the shirt of one of the dead men who littered the
battlefield like flotsam on the windswept beach.  Parties of
green-jacketed musketeers were working under their Dutch sergeants to
gather up the corpses.  Dragging them by the heels to a clearing among
the trees, they stripped the bodies and searched them for the silver
coins and other items of value that had been their share of the booty
from the Standvastigheid.

A pair of petty-officers painstakingly searched through the discarded
clothing, ripping out seams and tearing the soles off boots.  Another
team of three men, their sleeves rolled high and their fingers dipped
in a pot of grease, probed the body orifices of the corpses, searching
for any valuables that might be tucked away in these traditional hiding
places.

The recovered booty was thrown into an empty water cask, over which a
white sergeant stood with a loaded pistol as the keg filled slowly with
a rich booty.  When the ghoulish trio had finished with the naked
corpses another gang dragged them away and threw them onto tall funeral
pyres.  Fuelled by dry logs the flames reached so high that they
shrivelled the green leaves on the tall trees that surrounded the
clearing.  The smoke of charring flesh was sweet and nauseating, like
burnt pork fat.

In the meantime, Schreuder and Cumbrae, assisted by Limberger, the
captain of the galleon, were taking stock of the spice barrels.  They
were as officious as tax collectors, with their lists and books,
checking the contents and weights of the recovered goods against the
original ship's manifest, and marking the staves of the kegs with white
chalk.

When they had made their tallies other gangs of seamen rolled the great
barrels down to the beach and loaded them into the largest pinnace to
be taken out to the galleon, which lay anchored out in the channel,
under her new mainmast and rigging.  The work went on all that night by
the light of lantern and bonfire and the yellow flames of the cremation
pyres.

As the hours passed Big Daniel became feverish.  His skin was hot, and
at times he raved.  The bandage had at last staunched his wound, and
under it a soft crusty scab had begun to form over the ugly puncture.
But the skin around it was swollen and turning livid.

"The ball is still in there, Hal whispered to Aboli.  "There is no
wound in his back for it to have left his body."  Aboli grunted, "If we
try to cut it out, we will kill him.

From the angle which it entered, it must lie close to his heart and
lungs."

"I fear it will mortify."  Hal shook his head.

"He is strong as a bull."  Aboli shrugged.  "Perhaps strong enough to
defeat the demons."  Aboli believed that all sickness was caused by
demons that had invaded the blood.

It was a groundless superstition, but Hal humoured him in his belief.
"We should cauterize the wounds of all the men with hot tar."  This was
the sailor's cure-all and Hal pleaded in Dutch with the Hottentot
guards to bring one of the pitch pots from the carpenter's shop in the
stockade, but they ignored him.

It was after midnight before they saw Schreuder again.  He strode out
of the darkness and went directly to where Sir Francis lay chained to
the others at the foot of the tree.  Like the rest of his men, he was
exhausted but able to snatch only brief moments of broken sleep,
disturbed by the restless din and movements of the work gangs and the
weak cries and groans of the wounded.

"Sir Francis."  Schreuder stooped and shook him fully awake.  "May I
trouble you for a few minutes of your time?"  From the tone of his
voice, it seemed that his temper was on an even keel.

Sir Francis sat up.  "First, Colonel, may I trouble you for a little
compassion?  None of my men has had a drop of water since yesterday
afternoon.  As you can see, four are grievously wounded."

Schreuder frowned, and Sir Francis guessed that he had not given orders
for the prisoners to be deliberately mistreated.  He himself had never
thought that Schreuder was a brutal or sadistic man.  His savage
behaviour earlier had almost certainly been caused by his excitable
nature, and by the strain and exigencies of battle.  Now Schreuder
turned to the guards and gave orders for water and food to be brought
to the prisoners, and sent a sergeant to find the chest of medical
supplies in Sir Francis's shattered hut.

While they waited for his orders to be carried out, Schreuder paced
back and forth in the sand, his chin on his breast and his hands
clasped behind his back.  Hal suddenly sat up straighter.

"Aboli," he whispered.  "The sword."

Aboli grunted as he realized that on Schreuder's sword belt hung the
inlaid and embossed Neptune sword of Hal's knighthood, that had once
belonged to his grandfather.  Aboli laid a calming hand on the young
man's shoulder to prevent him accosting Schreuder, and said softly,
"The spoils of war, Gundwane.  It is lost to you, but at least a real
warrior still wears it."  Hal subsided, realizing the cruel logic of
the other man's advice.

At last Schreuder turned back to Sir Francis.  "Captain Limberger and I
have tallied the spice and timber cargo that you have stored in the go
downs and we find that most of it is accounted for and still intact.
The shortfall would probably be due to seawater damage sustained during
the taking of the galleon.  I have been told that one of your culverin
balls pierced the main hold and part of the cargo was flooded."

"I am pleased," Sir Francis nodded with weary irony, "that you have
been able to recover all of your Company's property.-" "Alas, that is
not the case, Sir Francis, as you are well aware.  There is still a
large part of the galleon's cargo missing."  He paused as the sergeant
returned, and gave him an order.  "Take the chains off the black and
the boy.  Let them water the others."  Some men were following with a
water cask, which they placed at the foot of the tree.  Hal and Aboli
immediately began to pour fresh water for their wounded, and all of
them drank, gulping down the precious stuff with closed eyes and
bobbing throats.

The sergeant reported to Colonel Schreuder, "I have found the surgeon's
instruments."  He displayed the canvas roll.  "But, Mijnheer, it
contains sharp knives, which could be used as weapons, and the contents
of the pitch pots could be used against my men."

Schreuder looked down at Sir Francis where he squatted, haggard and
dishevelled, beside the tree-trunk.  "Do I have your word as a
gentleman not to use these medical supplies to harm my men?"

"You have my solemn word," Sir Francis agreed.  Schreuder nodded at the
sergeant.  "Give all of it into Sir Francis's charge," he ordered, and
the sergeant handed over the small chest of medical supplies, the tar
pot and a bolt of clean cloth that could be used as bandages.

"Now, Captain," Schreuder picked up the conversation where he had left
off, "we have retrieved the plundered spice and timber, but more than
half the coin and all of the gold bullion that was in the hold of the
Standvastigheid is still missing."

"The spoils were distributed to my crew."  Sir Francis smiled
humourlessly.  "I do not know what they have done with their share, and
most are too dead to be able to enlighten us."

"We have recovered what I calculate must be the greater part of your
crew's share."  Schreuder gestured at the barrel containing the
valuables collected in such macabre fashion from the battlefield
casualties.  It was being carried by a party of seamen down -to a
waiting pinnace and guarded by Dutch officers with drawn swords.  "My
officers have searched the huts of your men in the stockade, but there
is still no sign of the other half."

"Much as I would like to be of service to you, I am unable to account
to you for the missing portion," Sir Francis told him quietly.  At this
denial, Hal looked up from ministering to the wounded men, but his
father never glanced in his direction.

"Lord Cumbrae believes that you have cached the missing treasure,"
Schreuder remarked.  "And I agree with him."

"Lord Cumbrae is a famous liar and cheat," Sir Francis said.  "And you,
sir, are mistaken in your belief."

"Lord Cumbrae is of the opinion that were he given the opportunity to
question you in person he would be able to extract from you the
whereabouts of the missing treasure.  He is anxious to try to persuade
you to reveal what you know.  It is only with the greatest difficulty
that I have been able to prevent him doing so."

Sir Francis shrugged.  "You must do as you feel fit, Colonel, but
unless I am a poor judge, the torture of captives is not something that
a soldier like you would condone.  I am grateful for the compassion
that you have shown my wounded."

Schreuder's reply was interrupted by an agonized scream from Ned Tyler
as Aboli poured a ladleful of steaming tar into the sword gash in his
thigh.  As the scream subsided into sobbing, Schreuder went on
smoothly.  "The tribunal that tries you for piracy at the fort at Good
Hope will be headed by our new governor.  I have serious doubts that
Governor Petrus Jacobus van de Velde will feel himself so constrained
to mercy as I am."  Schreuder paused and then went on, "By the way, Sir
Francis, I am reliably informed that the executioner employed by the
Company at Good Hope prides himself on his skills."

"I will have to give the Governor and his executioner the same answer I
gave you, Colonel."

Schreuder squatted on his heels and lowered his voice to a
conspiratorial, almost friendly, tone.  "Sir Francis, in our short
acquaintance I have formed a high regard for you as a warrior, a sailor
and a gentleman.  If I were to give evidence before the tribunal that
your Letter of Marque existed, and that you were a legitimate
privateer, the outcome of your trial might go differently."

"You must have faith in Governor van de Velde that I lack," Sir Francis
replied.  "I wish I could further your career for you by producing the
missing bullion, but I cannot help you, sir.  I know nothing of its
whereabouts."

Schreuder's face stiffened as he stood up.  "I have tried to help you.
I regret that you reject my offer.  However, you are correct, sir.  I
do not have the stomach to have you put to the question under torture.
What is more, I will prevent Lord Cumbrae from taking that task upon
himself.  I will simply do my duty and deliver you to the mercy of the
tribunal at Good Hope.  I beg you, siR, will you not reconsider?"

Sir Francis shook his head.  "I regret I cannot help you, sir.

Schreuder sighed.  "Very well.  You and your men will be taken aboard
the Gull of Moray as soon as she is ready to sail tomorrow morning. The
frigate Sonnevogel has other duties in the Indies and she will sail at
the same time to go her separate way.  The Standvastigheid will remain
here under her true commander, Captain Limberger, to take on her cargo
of spice and timber before she resumes her interrupted voyage to
Amsterdam."

He turned on his heel and disappeared back into the shadows, in the
direction of the spice go down

When they were aroused by their captors the following morning, four of
the wounded, including Daniel and Ned Tyler, were unable to walk and
their comrades were forced to carry them.  The slave chains allowed
little freedom of movement, and it was a clumsy line of men that
shambled down to the beach.  Each step was hampered by the clanking
shackles, so that they could not lift their feet high enough to step
over the gunwale of the pinnace, and had to be shoved in by their
guards.

When the pinnace tied onto the foot of the rope ladder down the side of
the Gull, the climb that faced the chained men to the deck was daunting
and dangerous.  Sam Bowles stood at the entry port above them.  One of
the guards in the pinnace shouted up to him, "Can we loose the
prisoners" chains, Boatswain?"

"Why do you want to do that?"  Sam called down.

"The wounded can't help themselves.  The others will not be able to
hoist them.  They'll not be able to make it up the ladder otherwise."
"if they don't make it they're the ones that will be the poorer for
it," Sam answered.  "His lordship's orders.  The manacles must stay
on."

Sir Francis led the climb, his every movement hampered by the string of
men linked behind him.  The four wounded men, moaning in their
delirium, were dead weights that had to be dragged up by force.  Big
Daniel, in particular, tested all their strength.  If they had allowed
him to slip from their grasp, he would have plummeted into the pinnace
and pulled the whole string of twenty-six men with him, almost
certainly capsizing the small boat.  Once in the lagoon, the weight of
their heavy iron chains would have plucked them all to the bottom, four
fathoms down.

If it had not been for the bull strength of Aboli, they would never
have reached the deck of the Gull.  Yet even he was completely played
out when, at last, he heaved Daniel's inert form over the gunwale and
collapsed beside him on the scrubbed white deck.  They all lay there
gasping and panting, to be roused at last by a tingling peal of
laughter.

With an effort Hal raised his head.  On the Gull's quarterdeck, under a
canvas awning, a breakfast table was laid.  The glass was crystal and
the silverware sparkled in the early sunlight.  He smelt the heady
aroma of bacon, fresh eggs and hot biscuit rising from the silver
chafing dish.

At the head of the table sat the Buzzard.  He raised his glass towards
that sprawling heap of human bodies in the waist of his ship.

"Welcome aboard, gentlemen, and your astounding good health!"  He drank
the toast in whisky, then wiped his ginger whiskers with a damask
napkin.  "The finest quarters on board have been prepared for you.  I
wish you a pleasant voyage."

Katinka van de Velde laughed again, a musical sound.  She sat at the
Buzzard's left hand.  Her head was bare, her golden curls piled high,
her violet eyes wide and innocent in the flawless oval of her powdered
face, and a beauty spot drawn carefully at the corner of her pretty,
painted mouth.

The Governor sat opposite his wife.  He stopped in the act of lifting a
silver fork loaded with crisped bacon and cheese to his mouth, but
continued to chew.  A yellow drop of egg yolk escaped from between his
pendulous lips and ran down his chin as he guffawed.  "Do not despair,
Sir Francis.  Remember your family motto.  I am sure you will endure."
He stuffed the forkful into his mouth, and spoke through it.  "This is
really excellent fare, fresh from Good Hope.  What a pity you cannot
join us."

"How thoughtful of your lordship to provide us with entertainment.

Will these troubadours sing for us, or will they amuse us with more
acrobatics?"  Katinka asked in Dutch, then made a pretty little moue
and tapped Cumbrae's arm with her painted Chinese fan.

At that moment Big Daniel rolled his head from side to side, thumping
it on the planks, and cried out in delirium.  The Buzzard howled with
laughter.  "As you see, they try their best, madam, but their
repertoire does not suit every taste."  He nodded at Sam Bowles.  "Pray
show them to their quarters, Master Samuel, and make sure they are well
cared for."

With a knotted rope end, Sam Bowles whipped the prisoners to their
feet.  They lifted their wounded and shambled down the companion
ladder.  In the depths of the hull, below the main hold, stretched the
low slave deck.  When Sam Bowles lifted the hatch that opened into it,
the stench that rose to greet them made even him recoil.  It was the
essence of the suffering of hundreds of doomed souls who had languished
here.

The head space in this deck was no higher than a man's waist so they
were forced to crawl down it and drag the wounded men with them.  Iron
rings were set into the bulkhead, bolted into the heavy oak beam that
ran the length of the hold.  Sam and his four mates crawled down after
them and shackled their chains into the ring bolts  When they had
finished, the captives were laid out like herrings in a barrel, side by
side, secured at wrist and ankle, only just able to sit up, but unable
to turn over or to move their limbs more than the few inches that their
chains allowed.

Hal lay with his father on one side and the inert hulk of Big Daniel on
the other.  Aboli was on the far side of Daniel and Ned Tyler beyond
him.

When the last man had been secured, Sam crawled back to the hatch and
smirked down at them.  "Ten days to Good Hope with this wind.  One pint
of water a day for each man, and three ounces of biscuit, when I
remember to bring it to you.  You're free to shit and piss where you
lie.  See you at Good Hope, my lovelies."

He slammed the hatch closed, and they heard him on the far side
hammering the locking pins into their seats.  When the mallet blows
ceased, the sudden quiet was frightening.  At first the darkness was
complete, but then as their eyes adjusted they could just make out the
dark forms of their mates packed around them.

Hal looked for the source of light and found a small iron grating set
into the deck directly above his head.  Even without the bars, it would
not have been large enough to admit the head of a grown man, and he
discounted it immediately as a possible escape route.  At least it
provided a whiff of fresh air.

The stench was hard to bear and they all gasped in the suffocating
atmosphere.  It smelt like a bear-pit.  Big Daniel moaned, and the
sound loosened their tongues.  They started to talk all at once.

"Love of God, it smells like a shit-house in apricot season down
here."

"Do you think there's a chance of escaping from here, Captain?"  , "Of
course there is, my bully," one of the men answered for Sir Francis.
"When we reach Good Hope."

"I would give half my share of the richest prize that ever sailed the
seven seas for five minutes alone with Sam Bowles."

"All my share for another five with that bloody Cumbrae."

"Or that cheese-headed bastard, Schreuder."

Suddenly Daniel gabbled, "Oh, Mother, I see your lovely face.  Come,
kiss your little Danny."  The plaintive cry disheartened them, and the
silence of despair fell over the dark, noisome slave deck.  Gradually
they sank into a torpor of despondency, broken occasionally by the
groans of delirium and the clank of the links as they tried to find a
more comfortable position.

Slowly, the passage of time lost all significance, and none were sure
whether it was night or day when the sound of the anchor capstan from
the upper deck reverberated through the hull and they heard the faint
shouts of the petty-officers relaying the orders to get the Gull under
way.

Hal tried to judge the ship's course and direction by the momentum and
heel of the hull, but soon lost track.  It was only when the Gull
plunged suddenly and began to work with a light, frolicsome motion to
the scend of the open sea that he knew they had left the lagoon and
passed out through the heads.

For hour after hour the Gull battled with the sou'-easter to make good
her offing.  The motion threw them back and forth on the bare planks,
sliding on their backs the few inches that their chains allowed before
coming up hard on their manacles, and then sliding back the other way.
It was a great relief when, at last, she settled into an easier
reach.

"There now.  That's a sight better."  Sir Francis spoke for them all.
"The Buzzard has made his offing.  He has come about and we are running
free with the sou'-easter abaft our beam, heading west for the Cape."

As time passed, Hal made some estimate of the passage of the days by
the intensity of light from the grating above his head.  During the
long nights there was a crushing blackness in the slave deck, like that
at the bottom of a coal shaft.  Then the softest light filtered down on
him as the dawn broke, which grew in strength until he could make out
the shape of Aboli's dark round head beyond the lighter face of Big
Daniel.

However, even at noon the further reaches of the slave deck were hidden
in darkness, from which the sighs and moans, and the occasional
whispers of the other men echoed eerily between the oaken bulkheads.
Then again the light faded away into that utter darkness to mark the
passing of another day.

On the third morning a whispered message was passed from man to man.
"Timothy O'Reilly is dead."  He was one of the wounded.  he had taken a
sword thrust in his chest from one of the green-jackets.

"He was a good man."  Sir Francis voiced his epitaph.  "May God rest
his soul.  I would that we were able to afford him a Christian burial."
By the fifth morning, Timothy's corpse added to the miasma of decay and
rot that permeated the slave deck and filled their lungs with each
breath.

Often, as Hal lay in a stupor of despair, the scampering grey rats, big
as rabbits, clambered over his body.  Their sharp claws raised painful
scratches across his bare skin.  In the end he gave up the hopeless
task of trying to drive them away by kicking and hitting out at them,
and set himself to endure the discomfort.  It was only when one sank
its sharp, curved teeth into the back of his hand that he shouted and
managed to seize it, squeaking shrilly, by the throat and throttle it
with his bare hands.

When Daniel cried out in pain beside him, he realized then that the
rats had found him also, and that he was unable to defend himself from
their attacks.  After that he and Aboli took turns at sitting up and
trying to keep the voracious rodents away from the unconscious man.

Their fetters prevented them from squatting over the narrow gutter that
ran along the foot of the bulkhead, designed to carry away their
sewage.  Every once in a while Hal heard the spluttering release as one
of the men voided where he lay, and immediately afterwards came the
fetid stench of fresh faeces in the confined and already musty
spaces.

When Daniel emptied his bladder, the warm liquid spread to flood the
planks under Hal and soaked into his shirt and breeches.  There was
nothing he could do to avoid it, except lift his head from the deck.

Most days, around what Hal judged to be noon, the locking pins on the
hatch were suddenly driven out with thunderous mallet blows.  When it
was lifted the feeble light that flooded the hold almost blinded them,
and they lifted their hands, heavy with chains, to shield their eyes.

"I have a special posset for you merry gentlemen today," Sam Bowles's
voice sang out.  "A mug of water from out oldest barrels, with a few
little beasties swimming in it and just a drop of my spittle to give it
flavour."  They heard him spit heartily, and then bray with laughter
before he handed down the first pewter mug.  Each mugful had to be
passed along the deck, from hand to clumsy manacled hand, and when one
was spilled there was none to replace it.

"One for each of our gentlemen.  That's twenty-six mugs, and no more,"
Sam Bowles told them cheerily.

Big Daniel was now too far gone to drink unaided, and Aboli had to lift
his head while Hal dribbled water between his lips.  The other sick men
had to be treated in the same way.  Much.  of the water was lost when
it ran out of their slack mouths, and it was a long-drawn-out business.
Sam Bowles lost patience before they were half through.  "None of you
want any more?  Well, I'll be off, then."  And he slammed the hatch
closed and drove home the pins, leaving most of the captives pleading
vainly, through parched throats and flaking lips for their share.  But
he was unrelenting, and they were forced to wait another day for their
next ration.

After that Aboli filled his own mouth with water from the mug, placed
his lips over Daniel's and forced it into the unconscious man's mouth.
They did the same for the other wounded.  This method was quick enough
to satisfy even Sam Bowles, and less of the precious fluid was lost.

Sam Bowles chuckled when one of the men shouted up at him, "For God's
sweet sake, Boatswain, there's a dead man down here.  Timothy O'Reilly
is stinking to the high heavens.  Can you not smell him?"

He answered, "I'm glad you told me.  That means he will not be using
his water ration.  It will be only twenty-five mugs I'll be serving
from tomorrow."

Daniel was dying.  He no longer groaned or thrashed about in delirium.
He lay like a corpse.  Even his bladder had dried up and no longer
emptied itself spontaneously on the reeking planks on which they lay.
Hal held his head and whispered to him, trying to cajole him into
staying alive.  "You can't give up now.  Hold on just a while longer
and we will be at the Cape before you know it.  All the sweet fresh
water you can drink, pretty slave girls to nurse you.  just think on
that, Danny."

At noon, on what he thought must be their sixth day at sea, Hal called
across to Aboli, "I have something to show you here.  Give me your
hand."  He took Aboli's fingers and guided them over Daniel's ribs. The
skin was so hot that it was almost painful to the touch, and the flesh
so wasted that the ribs stood out like barrel staves.

Hal rolled Daniel over as far as his chains would allow, and directed
Aboli's fingers onto his shoulder blade.  "There.  Can you feel that
lump?"

Aboli grunted, "I can feel it, but I cannot see."  He was so restricted
by his chains that he could not look over the bulk of Daniel's inert
body.

"I'm not sure, but I think I know what it is."  Hal put his face closer
and strained his eyes in the dim light.  "There is a swelling the size
of a walnut.  It's black like a bruise."  He touched it gently, and
even this light pressure made Daniel groan and fret against his
bonds.

"It must be very tender."  Sir Francis had roused himself and leaned as
close as he was able.  "I cannot see well.  Where is it?"

"In the middle of his shoulder blade," Hal answered.  "I believe that
it is the musket ball.  It has passed clean through his chest and is
lying here under the skin."

"Then that is what is killing him," Sir Francis said.  "It is the seat
and source of the mortification that is eating him up.  "If we had a
knife," Hal murmured, "we could try to cut it out.  But Sam Bowles took
the medical chest."

Aboli said, "Not before I hid one of the knives."  He searched in the
waistband of his breeches and held up the thin blade.  It glinted
softly in the faint light from the grating above Hal's head.  "I was
waiting for a chance to cut Sam's throat with it."

"We must risk cutting," Sir Francis told him.  "If it stays in his body
the ball will kill him more certainly than the scalpel.  "I cannot see
to make the cut from where I lie," Aboli said.  "You will have to do
it."

There was a scuffling and clinking of the chain links, then Sir Francis
grunted, "My chains are too short.  I cannot lay a finger on him."

They were all silent for a short while, then Sir Francis said, "Hal."

"Father," Hal protested, "I do not have the knowledge or the skill."

"Then Daniel will die," Aboli said flatly.  "You owe him a life,
Gundwane.  Here, take the knife."

In Hal's hand the knife seemed heavy as a bar of lead.  His mouth dry
with dread, he tested the edge of the blade against the ball of his
thumb and found it dulled by much use.

"It is blunt," he protested.

"Aboli is right, my son."  Sir Francis laid a hand on Hal's shoulder
and squeezed.  "You are Daniel's only chance."  Slowly Hal reached out
with his left hand, and felt the hard lump in Daniel's hot flesh.  It
moved under his fingers, and he felt it grate softly against the bone
of the shoulder blade.

The pain roused Daniel, and he struggled against his chains.  He
shouted, "Help me, Jesus.  I have sinned against God and man.  The
devil comes for me.  He is dark.  Everything grows dark."

"Hold him, Aboli," Hal whispered.  "Hold him still."

Aboli wrapped his arms around Daniel, like the coils of a great black
python.  "Do it," he said.  "Do it swiftly."

Hal leaned in close to Daniel, as close as his chains would let him,
his face a hand's breadth from the other man's back.  Now he could see
the swelling more clearly.  The skin was stretched so tightly over it
that it was glossy and purple as an overripe plum.  He placed the
fingers of his left hand on each side of it and spread the skin even
tighter.

He took a deep breath, and placed the tip of the scalpel against the
swelling.  He steeled himself, counting silently to three, then pressed
down with the strength of a trained sword arm.  He felt the blade slide
deep into Daniel's back, and then strike something hard and unyielding,
metal on metal.

Daniel shrieked and then went slack in Aboli's enfolding arms.  A spurt
of purple and yellow pus erupted from the deep scalpel cut.  Hot and
thick as carpenter's glue, it struck Hal in the mouth and splattered
across his chin.  The smell was worse than all the other odours of the
slave deck, and Hal's gorge rose to scald the back of his throat.  He
swallowed back his own vomits and wiped the pus from his face with the
back of his arm, before he could bring himself to peer gingerly once
more at the wound.

Black pus still bubbled from it, but he saw extraneous matter caught in
the mouth of the fresh cut.  He dug at it with the tip of the scalpel,
and freed a plug of dark and fibrous material, in which bone chips from
the shattered scapula were mingled with jellied blood and pus.

"It's a piece of Danny's jacket," he gasped.  "The ball must have
pulled it into the wound."

"Have you found the ball?"  Sir Francis demanded.  "No, it must still
be in there."

He probed deeper into the wound.  "Yes.  There it is."  "Can you get it
out?"

For a few minutes Hal worked in silence, thankful that Daniel was
unconscious and did not have to suffer during this crude exploration.
The flow of pus dwindled and now fresh clean blood oozed from the dark
wound.

"I can't get it with the knife.  It keeps slipping away," he whispered.
He put aside the blade and pushed his finger into Daniel's hot, living
flesh.  Breath rasping with horror, he worked in deeper and still
deeper, until he could get his fingertip behind the lump of lead.

"There!"  he exclaimed suddenly, as the musket ball popped out of the
wound and dropped onto the planks with a thump.  It was deformed by its
violent contact with bone, and there was a mirror-bright smear in the
soft lead.

He stared at it in vast relief, then snatched his finger from the
wound.

It was followed by another soft rush of pus and lumpy foreign matter.
"There is the musket wad."  He gagged.  "I think everything is out
now."  He looked down at his besmeared hands.  The stench from them
struck him like a blow in the face.

For a while they were all silent.  Then Sir Francis whispered, "Well
done, Hal!"  "I think he is dead," Hal answered, in a small voice.  "He
is so still."

Aboli released Daniel from his grip, then groped down his naked chest.
"No, he is alive.  I can feel his heart.  Now, Gundwane, you must wash
out the wound for him."

Between them they dragged Daniel's inert body to the limit of his
fetters and Hal half knelt above him.  He opened his filthy breeches
and dehydrated by the limited ration of water, strained to squirt a
weak stream of urine into the wound.  It was enough to wash out the
last rotting shreds of wadding and corruption.  Hal used the last few
drops of his own water to cleanse some of the filth from his hands and
then fell back, spent by the effort.

"Done like a man, Gundwane," Aboli told him, and offered Hal the red
head cloth black and crackling with dried blood and pus.  "Use this to
staunch the wound.  It is all we have."

While Hal bandaged the wound, Daniel lay like a corpse.  He no longer
groaned or fought against his chains.  Three days later, as Hal leaned
over to give him water, Daniel suddenly reached up, pushed away his
head and took the mug from Hal's hands.  He drained it in three long
swallows.  Then he belched thunderously and said, in a weak but lucid
voice, "By God, that was good.  I'll have a drop more of that."

Hal was so delighted and relieved that he handed him his own ration and
watched him drink it.  By the following day, Daniel was able to sit up
as much as his chains would allow.

"Your surgery would have killed a dozen ordinary mortals, Sir Francis
murmured, as he watched Big Daniel's recovery with amazement, "but
Daniel Fisher thrives upon it."

The ninth day of their voyage Sam Bowles opened the hatch and sang out
cheerily, to "Good news for you, gentlemen.  Wind has played us false
these last fifty leagues.  His lordship reckons it will be another five
days before we round the Cape.  So your pleasure cruise will last a
little longer."

Few had the strength or interest to rail at this dread news, but they
reached up for the pewter water mug with frantic hands.  When the daily
ceremony of watering was done, this time Sam Bowles altered the
routine.  Instead of slamming the hatch closed for another day, he
stuck his head down and called, "Captain Courtney, sir, his lordship's
compliments, and if you have no previous engagement, he would be
obliged if you would take dinner with him."  He scrambled down into the
slave deck and, with two of his mates to help him, unscrewed Sir
Francis's shackles from his wrists and ankles, and withdrew them from
the ring bolts in the bulkhead.

Even once Sir Francis was free, it took all three men to lift him to
his feet.  He was so weak and cramped that he swayed and staggered like
a drunkard as they helped him climb painfully through the hatch.
"Begging your pardon, Captain," Sam laughed in his face, "you ain't
exactly no bed of roses, you ain't.  I've smelt pig-sties and cesspools
a sight sweeter than you, that I have, Franky me lad."

They dragged him up on deck, and stripped the stinking rags from his
shrunken body.  Then four seamen worked the handles of the deck pump
while Sam turned the stream from the canvas hose full on him.  The Gull
had entered the tail end of the cold green Benguela current that sweeps
down the west coast of the continent.  The jet of icy seawater from the
hose almost knocked Sir Francis from his feet, and he had to cling to
the shrouds to keep his balance.  Shivering and choking when Sam
directed the hose full into his face, he was able yet to scrub most of
the crusted filth from his hair and body.  It was of no concern to him
that Katinka van de Velde leaned on the rail of the poop deck and
scrutinized his nudity without the least indication of modesty.

Only when the hose was turned off and he was left to stand in the wind
to dry off did Sir Francis have a chance to look about him and form
some estimate of the Gull's position and condition.  Although his
emaciated body was blue with cold, he felt refreshed and strengthened
by the dousing.  His teeth chattered and his whole frame shuddered with
involuntary spasms of cold as he looked over side and he folded his
arms over his chest to try to warm himself.  The African mainland lay
ten leagues or so to the north, and he recognized the cliffs and crags
of the point that guarded the entrance to False Bay.  They would have
to weather that savage point before they could enter Table Bay on the
far side of the peninsula.

The wind was almost dead calm, and the surface of the sea as slick as
oil, with long, low swells rising and falling like the breathing of a
sleeping monster.  Sam Bowles was telling the truth.  unless the wind
picked up it would be many more days before they rounded the Cape and
dropped anchor in Table Bay.  He wondered how many more of his men
would follow Timothy before they were released from the confines of the
slave deck.

Sam Bowles threw a few pieces of threadbare but clean clothing on the
deck at his feet.  "His lordship is expecting you.  Don't keep him
waiting now."

"Franky!"  Cumbrae rose to greet him as he stooped through the doorway
into the Gull's stern cabin.  "I am so pleased to see that you look
none the worse for your little sojourn below decks."  Before Sir
Francis could avoid it, Cumbrae seized him in a bear-hug.  "I must
apologize deeply for your treatment but it was at the insistence of the
Dutch Governor and his wife.  I would never have treated a brother
Knight in such a scurvy fashion."

While he spoke the Buzzard ran his great hands quickly down Sir
Francis's body, checking for a concealed knife or other weapon, then
pushed him into the largest and most comfortable chair in the cabin.

"A glass of wine, my dear old friend?"  He poured it with his own hand,
then gestured for his steward to place a bowl of stew in front of Sir
Francis.  Though saliva flooded into his mouth at the aroma of the
first hot food he had been offered in almost two weeks, Sir Francis
made no move to touch the glass or the spoon beside the bowl of stew.

Cumbrae noticed his refusal and, although he raised one bushy ginger
eyebrow, he did not urge him but seized his own spoon and slurped up a
mouthful from his own bowl.  He chewed with all the sounds of appetite
and approval, then washed it down with a hearty swallow from his wine
glass, and wiped his red whiskers with the back of his hand.  "No,
Franky, left to my own choice I would never have treated you so
shabbily.  You and I have had our differences in the past, but it has
always been in the spirit of gentlemanly sport and competition, has it
not?"

"Such sport as firing your broadside into my camp without warning?" Sir
Francis asked.

"Now, let us not waste time in idle recrimination."  The Buzzard waved
away the remark.  "That would never have been necessary if only you had
agreed to share the booty from the galleon with me.  What I really mean
was that you and I understand each other.  At heart we are brothers."

"I think that I understand you."  Sir Francis nodded.  "Then you will
know that what gives you pain, pains me even more.  I have suffered
every minute of your incarceration with you."

"I hate to see you suffer, my lord, so why not release me and my
men?"

"That is my fervent wish and intention, I assure you.  However, there
remains one small impediment that prevents me doing so.  I need from
you a sign that my warm feelings towards you are reciprocated.  I am
still deeply hurt that you would not share with me, your old friend,
what was rightly mine in the terms of our agreement."

"I am certain that the Dutch have given you the share you lacked
before.  In fact I saw you loading what seemed to me a generous portion
of the spice aboard this very ship.  I wonder what the Lord High
Admiral of England will make of such traffic with the enemy."

"A few barrels of spice barely worth the breath to mention it."
Cumbrae smiled.  "But there ain't nothing like silver and gold to rouse
my fraternal instincts.  Come, now, Franky, we have wasted enough time
in the pleasantries.  You and I know that you have the bullion from the
galleon cached somewhere close by your encampment on Elephant Lagoon.
I know I will find it if I search long enough, but by then you will be
dead, sent messily on your way by the executioner at Good Hope."

Sir Francis smiled and shook his head.  "I have cached no treasure.
Search if you will, but there is nothing for you to find."

"Think on it, Franky.  You know what the Dutch did to the English
merchants they captured on the isle of Bali?  They crucified them and
burnt off their hands and feet with sulphur flares.  I want to save you
from that."

"If you have nothing further to discuss, I will return to my crew." Sir
Francis stood up.  His legs were stronger now.  "Sit down!"  the
Buzzard snapped.  "Tell me where you hid it, man, and I will put you
and your men ashore with no further harm done, I swear it on my
honour."  Cumbrae wheedled and blustered for another hour.  Then at
last he sighed.  "You drive a hard bargain, Franky.  I tell you what
I'll do for you.  I would do it for no one else, but I love you like a
brother.  If you take me back and lead me to the booty, I'll share it
with you.  Fifty-fifty, right down the middle.  Now I can't be more
fair than that, can I?"  Sir Francis met even this offer with a calm,
detached smile, and Cumbrae could hide his fury no longer.  He slapped
the table so viciously with the palm of his hand, that the glasses
overturned and the wine sprayed across the cabin.  He bellowed
furiously for Sam Bowles.  "Take this arrogant bastard away, and chain
him up again."  As Sir Francis left the cabin he shouted after him, "I
will find where you hid it, Franky, I swear it to you.  I know more
than you think.  Just as soon as I have seen you topped on the Parade
at Good Hope, I will be going back to the lagoon, and I won't leave
until I find it."

One more of Sir Francis's seamen died in his chains before they
anchored off the four shore in Table Bay.  The others were so stiff and
weak that they were forced to crawl like animals up the ladder to the
upper deck.  They huddled there, their ragged clothing crusted with
their own filth, gazing around them, blinking and trying to shield
their eyes from the brilliant morning sunshine.

Hal had never been this close inshore of Good Hope.  On the outward leg
of their cruise, at the beginning of the war, they had stood well off
and looked into the bay from a great distance.  However, that brief
glimpse had not prepared him for the splendour of this seascape, where
the royal blue of the Atlantic, flecked with wind spume, washed up on
beaches so dazzling they hurt his weakened eyes.

The fabled flat-topped mountain seemed to fill most of the blue African
sky, a great cliff of yellow rock slashed by .  deep ravines choked
with dense green forest.  The top of the mountain was so geometrically
level, and its proportions so pleasing, that it seemed to have been
designed by a celestial architect.  Over the top of this immense
tableland spilled a standing wave of shimmering cloud, frothy as milk
boiling over the rim of a pot.  This silver cascade never reached the
lower slopes of the mountain, but as it fell it evaporated in
mid-flight with a magical suddenness, leaving the lower slopes
resplendent in their cloaking of verdant natural forest.

The grandeur dwarfed and rendered inconsequential the buildings that
spread like an irritating rash along the shore above the snowy beach,
from which a fleet of small boats put out to meet the Gull as soon as
she dropped her anchor.

Governor van de Velde refused to climb down the ladder, and was hoisted
from the deck, swung outboard in a boatswain's chair, all the while
shouting nervous instructions at the men on the ropes.  "Careful now,
you clumsy oafs!  Drop me and I will have the skin thrashed off your
backs."

He was lowered into the longboat at the Gull's side, in which his wife
already waited.  Assisted by Colonel Cornelius Schreuder, her descent
had been considerably more graceful than her husband's.

They were rowed to the foreshore, where five strong slaves lifted the
new Governor from the boat that danced in the shore break of white foam
at the edge of the beach.  They waded ashore with him and deposited him
on the sand.

As the Governor's feet touched African soil the first cannon shot of a
salute of fourteen rang out.  A long plume of silver gunsmoke shot from
the embrasure on the top of the southern redoubt, and the thunderous
report so startled the new representative of the Company that he leapt
a foot in the air and almost lost his plumed Hat to the sou'-easter.

Governor Kleinhans, overjoyed that his successor in office had at last
arrived, was at the foreshore to meet him.  The garrison commander,
equally anxious to hand over to Colonel Schreuder and shake from his
feet the rank African dust, was on the ramparts of the fortress, his
telescope focused on the arriving dignitaries.

The state carriage was waiting above the beach, six beautiful greys in
the traces.  Governor Kleinhans dismounted from it to greet the new
arrivals, clutching his Hat in the wind.  An honour guard from the
garrison was drawn up around the carriage.  Gathered along the
waterfront were several hundred men, women and children.  Every
resident of the settlement who could walk or crawl had turned out to
welcome Governor van de Velde as he struggled through the loose sand.

When at last he reached firm footing and had gathered his breath and
dignity he accepted Governor Kleinhans" welcome.  They shook hands to
cheering and applause from the Company officials, free burghers and
slaves gathered to watch.  The military escort presented their arms,
and the band launched into a spirited patriotic air.  The music ended
with a clash of cymbals and a roll of kettle drums.  The two Governors
spontaneously embraced each other, Kleinhans delighted to be free to
return to Amsterdam, and van de Velde overjoyed at having escaped death
by storm and piracy and to have Dutch soil under his feet once more.

While Sam Bowles and his mates were removing the corpses from the slave
chains and tossing them overboard, Hal squatted in the rank of captives
and watched from afar as Katinka was ushered into the carriage by
Governor Kleinhans on one arm and Colonel Schreuder on the other.

He felt his heart tear with love for her, and he whispered to Daniel
and Aboli, "Is she not the most beautiful lady in the world?  She will
use her influence for us.  Now that her husband has full powers, she
will persuade him to treat us justly."  Neither of the two big men
replied, but they exchanged a glance.  Daniel grinned with broken teeth
and Aboli rolled his eyes.

Once Katinka was settled on the leather seats, they boosted her husband
aboard.  The carriage swayed and rocked under his weight.  As soon as
he was safely installed beside his wife, the band struck up a lively
march and the escort shouldered their muskets and stepped out, a
stirring sight in their white cross belts and green jackets.  The
procession streamed across the open parade ground towards the fort,
with the crowds running ahead of the carriage and lining both sides of
the route.

"Farewell, gentlemen.  It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have
you aboard."  The Buzzard touched the brim of his Hat in an ironic
salute as Sir Francis shambled across the deck dragging his chains, and
led the file of his crew down the ladder into the boat moored
alongside.  So many men in chains made a heavy load for it in this
condition of swell.  They were left with only a few inches of freeboard
as they pushed off from the Gull's side.

The oarsmen struggled to hold the longboat's stern into the breaking
white waves as they approached the beach, but a taller swell got under
her and threw her off line.  She broached heavily, dug in her shoulder
and rolled over in four feet of water.  Crew and passengers were thrown
into the white water, and the capsized boat was caught up in the
wash.

Choking and coughing up seawater, the prisoners managed to drag each
other from the surf by their chains.  Miraculously none was drowned,
but the effort taxed most to their limit.  When the guards from the
fortress hectored them to their feet and drove them with musket butt
and curses up the beach, they were streaming water and coated with a
sugaring of white sand.

Having seen the state carriage safely through the gates of the fort,
the crowds poured back to the waterfront to have a little sport with
these wretched creatures.  They studied them as though they were
livestock at a market, and their laughter was unrestrained, their
comments ribald.

"Look more like gypsies and beggars than English pirates to me."

"I'm saving my guilders.  I'll not be bidding when that lot go up on
the slave block."

"They don't sell pirates, they burn them."

"They don't look much, but at least they'll give us all some sport.  We
haven't had a really good execution since the slave revolt."

"There's Stadige Jan over there, come to look them over.  I'll warrant
he'll have a few lessons to teach these corsairs."  Hal turned his head
in the direction the speaker pointed to where a tall burgher in dark,
drab clothing and a puritan Hat stood a head above the crowd.  He
looked at Hal with pale expressionless yellow eyes.

"What do you think of these beauties, Stadige Jan?  Will you be able to
get them to sing a pretty tune for us?"

Hal sensed the repulsion and fascination this man held for those around
him.  None stood too close to him, and they looked at him in such a way
that Hal instinctively knew that this was the executioner of whom they
had been warned.  He felt his flesh crawl as he looked into those faded
eyes.

"Why do you think that they call him Slow John?"  he asked Aboli, from
the side of his mouth.

"Let us hope we never have to find out," Aboli replied!  as they passed
where the tall, cadaverous figure stood.

Small boys, both brown and white, danced beside the column of chained
men, jeering and pelting them with pebbles and filth from the open
gutters that carried the sewage from the town down to the sea front.
Encouraged by this example a pack of mongrel dogs snapped at their
heels.  The adults in the crowd were turned out in their best clothes
for such an unusual occasion and laughed at the antics of the children.
Some of the women held sachets of herbs to their noses when they smelt
the bedraggled file of prisoners, shuddering in horrified
fascination.

"Oh!  What dreadful creatures!"

"Look at those cruel and savage faces."

"I have heard that they feed those Negroes on human flesh."

Aboli contorted his face and rolled his eyes at them.  The tattoos on
his cheeks stood proud, and his great white teeth were bared in a
fearsome grin.  The women squealed with delicious terror, and their
little daughters hid their faces in their mothers" skirts as he
passed.

At the rear of the crowd, hanging back from the company of their
betters, taking no part in the sport of baiting the captives, were
those men and women who, Hal guessed, must be the domestic slaves of
the burghers.  The slaves in the crowd ranged in colour from the
anthracite black of Africa to the amber and gold skins of the Orient.
Most were simply dressed in the cast-off clothing of their owners,
although some of the prettier women wore the flamboyant finery that
marked them as the favourite playthings of their masters.

They looked on quietly as the seamen trudged past in their clanking
chains, and there was no sound of laughter among them.  Rather, Hal
sensed a certain empathy behind their closed impassive expressions for
they were captives also.  Just before they entered the gate to the
fort, Hal noticed one girl in particular at the back of the crowd.  She
had climbed up on a pile of masonry blocks for a better view and stood
higher than the intervening ranks of spectators.  This was not the only
reason why Hal had singled her out.

She was more beautiful than he had ever expected any woman to be.  She
was a flower of a girl, with thick glossy black hair and dark eyes that
seemed too large for her delicate oval face.  For one moment their eyes
met over the heads of the crowd, and it seemed to Hal that she tried to
pass him some message that he was unable to grasp.  He knew only that
she felt compassion for him, and that she shared in his suffering. Then
he lost sight of her as they were marched through the gateway into the
courtyard of the fort.

The image of her stayed with him over the dreadful days that followed.
Gradually it began to supersede the memory of Katinka, and in the
nights sometimes returned to give him the strength he needed to endure.
He felt that if there were but one person of such loveliness and
tenderness out there, beyond the gaunt stone walls, who cared for his
abject condition, then it was worth fighting on.

In the courtyard of the fort, a military armourer struck off their
shackles.  A shore party under the command of Sam Bowles stood by to
collect the discarded chains to take back aboard the Gull.  "I will
miss you all, my shipmates."  Sam grinned.  The lower decks of the old
Gull will be empty and lonely without your smiling faces and your good
cheer."  He gave them a salute from the gateway as he led his shore
party away.  "I hope they look after you as well as your good friend
Sam Bowles did.  But, never fear, I'll be at the Parade when you give
your last performance there."

When Sam was gone, Hal looked around the courtyard.  He saw that the
fortress had been designed on a substantial scale.  As part of his
training his father had made him study the science of land
fortifications, so he recognized the tlassical defensive layout of the
stone walls and redoubts.  He realized that once these works were
completed, it would take an army equipped with a full siege train to
reduce them.

However, the work was less than half finished, and on the landward side
of the fort or, as their new gaolers referred to it, bet kasteel, the
castle, there were merely open foundations from which the massive stone
walls would one day rise.  Yet it was clear that the work was being
hastened along.  Almost certainly the two recent Anglo-Dutch wars had
imparted this impetus.  Both Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of the
Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, during the interregnum,
and King Charles, son of the man he had beheaded, could claim some
credit for the frenzy of construction that was going on around them.
They had forcibly reminded the Dutch of the vulnerability of their
far-flung colonies.  The half-finished walls swarmed with hundreds of
workmen, and the courtyard in which they stood was piled with building
timber and blocks of dressed masonry hewn from the mountain that loomed
over it all.

As dangerous captives they were kept apart from the other prisoners.
They were marched from the courtyard down the short spiral staircase
below the south wall of the fort.  The stone blocks that lined floor,
vaulted roof and walls glistened with moisture that had seeped in from
the surrounding waterlogged soil.  Even on such a sunny day in autumn
the temperature in these dank forbidding surroundings made them
shiver.

At the foot of the first flight of stairs Sir Francis Courtney was
dragged out of the file by his gaolers and thrust into a small cell
just large enough to hold one man.  It was one in a row of half a dozen
or so identical cells, whose doors were of solid timber studded with
iron bolts and the tiny barred peep-hole in each was shuttered and
closed.  They had no sight of the other inmates.  "Special quarters for
you, Sir Pirate," the burly Dutch gaoler told him as he slammed the
door on Sir Francis and turned the lock with a huge iron key from the
bunch on his belt.  "We are putting you in the Skellum's Den, with all
the really bad ones, the murderers and rebels and robbers.  You will
feel at home here, of that I'm sure."

The rest of the prisoners were herded down to the next level of the
dungeon.  The sergeant gaoler unlocked the grille door at the end of
the tunnel and they were shoved into a long narrow cell.  Once the
grille was locked behind them there was barely room for them all to
stretch out on the thin layer of damp straw that covered the
cobblestoned floor.  A single latrine bucket stood in one corner, but
murmurs of pleasure from all the men greeted the sight of the large
water cistern beside the grille gate.  At least this meant they were no
longer on shipboard water rations.

There were four small windows set in the top of one wall and, once they
had inspected their surroundings, Hal looked up at them.  Aboli hoisted
him onto his shoulders and he was able to reach one of these narrow
openings.  It was heavily barred, like the others, but Hal tried the
gratings with his bare hands.  They were set rock-firm, and he was
forced to put out of his mind any notion of escaping this way.

Hanging on the grating, he drew himself up and peered through it.  He
found that his eyes were a foot or so above ground level, and from'
there he had a view of part of the interior courtyard of the castle.
He could see the entrance gateway and the grand portals of what he
guessed must be the Company offices and the Governor's suite. To one
side, through the gap where the walls had not yet been raised, he could
see a portion of the cliffs of the table-topped mountain, and above
them the sky.  Against the cloudless blue sailed a flock of white
gulls.

Hal lowered himself and pushed his way through the throng of seamen,
stepping over the bodies of the sick and wounded.  When he reached the
grille he looked up the staircase but could not see the door to his
father's cell.  - "Father!"  he called tentatively, expecting a rebuke
from one of the gaolers, but when there was no response he raised his
voice and shouted again.

"I hear you, Hal, his father called back.

"Do you have any orders for us, Father?"

"I expect they'll leave us in peace for a day or two, at least until
they have convened a tribunal.  We will have to wait it out.  Tell the
men to be of good heart."

At that a strange voice intervened, speaking in English but with an
unfamiliar accent.  "Are you the English pirates we have heard so much
about?"

"We are honest sailors, falsely accused," Sir Francis shouted back.
"Who and what are you?"

"I am your neighbour in the Skellum's Den, two cells down from you.  I
am condemned to die, as you are."

"We are not yet condemned," Sir Francis protested.

"It is only a matter of time.  I hear from the gaolers, that you soon
will be."

"What is your name?"  Hal joined in the exchange.  He was not
interested in the stranger, but this conversation served to pass the
time and divert them from their own predicament.  "What is your
crime?"

"I am Althuda, and my crime is that I strive to be free and to set
other men free."

"Then we are brothers, Althuda, you and I and every man here.  We all
strive for freedom."

There was a ragged chorus of assent, and when it subsided Althuda spoke
again.  "I led a revolt of the Company slaves.  Some were recaptured.
Those Stadige Jan burned alive, but most of us escaped into the
mountains.  Many times they sent soldiers after us, but we fought and
drove them off and they could not enslave us again."  His was a vital
young voice, proud and strong, and even before Hal had seen his face he
found himself drawn to this Althuda.

"Then if you escaped, how is it that you are back here in the
Skellurn's Den?"  one of the English seamen wanted to know.  They were
all listening now.  Althuda's story had moved even the most hardened of
them.

"I came back to rescue somebody, another slave who was left behind,"
Althuda told them.  "When I entered the colony again I was recognized
and betrayed."

They were all silent for a space.

"A woman?"  a voice asked.  "You came back for a woman?"  "Yes," said
Althuda.  "A woman."

"There is always an Eve in the midst of Eden to tempt us into folly,
"one sang out and they all laughed.

Then somebody else asked, "Was she your sweetheart?"  "No," Althuda
answered.  "I came back for my little sister."

Thirty guests sat down to the banquet that Governor Kleinhans gave to
welcome his successor.  All the most important men in the
administration of the colony, together with their wives, were seated
around the long board.

From the place of honour Petrus van de Velde gazed with delighted
anticipation down the length of the rosewood table above which hung
massive chandeliers, each burning fifty perfumed- candles.  They lit
the great hall as if it was day, and sparkled on the silverware and
crystal glasses.

For months now, ever since sailing from the coast of Trincomalee, van
de Velde had been forced to subsist on the swill and offal cooked on
the galleon and then on the coarse fare that the English pirates had
provided for him.  Now his eyes shone and saliva flooded his mouth as
he contemplated the culinary extravaganza spread before him.  He
reached for the tall glass in front of him, and took a mouthful of the
rare wine from Champagne.  The tiny seething bubbles tickled his palate
and spurred his already unbridled appetite.

Van de Velde considered this a most fortunate posting, for which his
wife's connection in the Council of Seventeen was to be thanked.
Positioned here, at the tip of Africa, A constant procession of ships
passed in both directions bringing the luxuries of Europe and the
Orient into Table Bay.  They would want for nothing.

Silently he cursed Kleinhans for his long-winded speech of welcome, of
which he heard barely a word.  All his attention was on the array of
silver dishes and chargers that were laid before him, one after
another.

There were little sucking pigs in crisp suits of golden crackling,
barons of beef running with their own rich juices set around with
steaming ramparts of roasted potatoes, heaps of tender young pullets
and pigeons and ducks and fat geese, five different types of fresh fish
from the Atlantic, cooked five different ways, fragrant with the
curries and spices of Java and Kandy and Further India, tall pyramids
of the huge claw less crimson lobsters that abounded in this southern
ocean, a vast array of fruits and succulent vegetables from the Company
gardens, and sherbets and custards and sugar dumplings and cakes and
trifles and confitures and every sweet delight that the slave chefs in
the kitchens could conceive.  All this was backed by stalwart ranks of
cheese brought by Company ships from Holland, and jars of pickled
North-Sea herring, and smoked sides of wild boar and salmon.

In contrast to this superabundance, the service was all of delicate
blue and white pattern.  Behind each chair stood a house slave in the
green uniform of the Company, ready to recharge glass and plate with
nimble white-gloved hands.  Would the man never stop talking and let
them at the food, van de Velde wondered, and smiled and nodded at
Kleinhans" inanities.

At last, with a bow to the new Governor and a much deeper one to his
wife, Kleinhans sank back into his chair, and everyone looked
expectantly at van de Velde.  He gazed around at their asinine faces,
and then with a sigh rose to his feet to reply.  Two minutes will do
it, he told himself, and gave them what they expected to hear, ending
jovially, "In conclusion, I want only to wish Governor Kleinhans a safe
return to the old country, and a long and happy retirement."

He sat down with alacrity and reached for his spoon.  This was the
first time the burghers had been privileged to witness the new Governor
at table, and an amazed and respectful silence fell upon the company as
they watched the level in his soup bowl fall like the outgoing tide
across the mud-flats of the Zuider Zee.  Then, suddenly realizing that
when the guest of honour finished one course, the plates would be
changed and the next course served, they fell to in a frenzied effort
to catch up.  There were many stout trenchermen among them, but none to
match the Governor, especially when he had had a head start.

As his soup bowl emptied, every bowl was whisked away and replaced with
a plate piled high with thick cuts of sucking pig.  The first two
courses were completed in virtual silence, broken only by slurping and
gulping.

During the third course Kleinhans rallied and, as host, made a valiant
attempt to revive the conversation.  He leaned forward to distract van
de Velde's attention from his plate.  "I expect that you will wish to
deal with the matter of the English pirates before any other business,"
he asked, and van de Velde nodded vigorously, although his mouth was
too full of succulent lobster to permit a verbal reply.

"Have you decided yet how you will go about their trial and
sentencing?"  Kleinhans enquired lugubriously.  Van de Velde swallowed
noisily, before he replied, "They will be executed, of course, but not
before their captain, this notorious corsair Francis Courtney, reveals
the hiding place of the missing Company cargo.  I would like to convene
a tribunal immediately for this purpose."

Colonel Schreuder coughed politely, and van de Velde glanced at him
impatiently.  "Yes?  You wanted to say something?  Out with it,
then!"

"Today I had opportunity to inspect the work proceeding on the kasteel
fortifications, sir.  The good Lord alone knows when we will be at war
with England again, but it may be soon.  The English are thieves by
nature, and pirates by vocation.  It is for these reasons, sir, that
the Seventeen in Amsterdam have placed the highest priority on the
completion of our fortifications.  That fact is spelt out very clearly
in my orders and my letter of appointment to the command of the
kasteel."

Every man at the table looked grave and attentive at the mention of the
sacred Seventeen, as though the name of a deity had been invoked.
Schreuder let the silence run on for a while to make good his point,
then said, "The work is very much behind what their excellencies have
decreed."

Major Loten, the outgoing garrison commander, interjected, "It is true
that the work is somewhat behindhand, but there are good reasons for
this."  The construction was his prime responsibility, and Governor van
de Velde's eyes switched to his face.  He placed another forkful of
lobster in his mouth.  The sauce was truly delicious, and he sighed
with pleasure as he contemplated another five years of meals of this
order.  He must certainly buy the chef from Kleinhans before he
sailed.

He formed his features into a more solemn pattern as he listened to
Loren making his excuses.  "I have been hampered by a shortage of
labour.  This most regrettable revolt among the slaves has left us
severely under manned he said lamely, and van de Velde frowned.

"Precisely the point I was about to make," Schreuder picked up
smoothly.  "If we are so short of men to meet the expectations of the
Seventeen, would we be wise to execute twenty-four strong and
able-bodied English pirates, instead of employing them in the
workings?"

Every eye at the table turned to van de Velde to judge his reaction,
waiting for him to give them a lead.  The new Governor swallowed, then
used his forefinger to free a shred of lobster leg caught in his back
teeth before he spoke.  "Courtney cannot be spared, he said at last.
"Not even to work on the fortifications.  According to Lord Cumbrae,
whose opinion I respect," he gave the Buzzard a seated bow, "the
Englishman knows where the missing cargo is hidden, besides which my
wife and I," he nodded towards Katinka, who sat between Kleinhans and
Schreuder, "have been forced to suffer many indignities at his
hands."

"I quite agree," said Schreuder.  "He must be made to tell all he knows
of the missing bullion.  But the others?  Such a waste to execute them
when they are needed on the walls, don't you think, sir.  They are,
after all, dull-witted cattle, with little understanding of the gravity
of their offence but with strong backs to pay for it."

Van de Velde grunted noncommittally.  "I would like to hear the opinion
of Governor Kleinhans on this matter," he said, and filled his mouth
again, his head lowered on his shoulders and his small eyes focused on
his predecessor.  Sagely, he passed on the responsibility of making the
decision.  Later, if there were repercussions, he could always unload a
share of the blame.

"Of course," said Governor Kleinhans, with an airy wave of the hand,
"prime slaves are selling for almost a thousand guilders a head at the
moment.  Such a large addition to the Company purse would commend
itself highly to their excellencies.  The Seventeen are determined that
the colony must pay for itself and not become a drain on the Company
exchequer."

All present gave this their solemn consideration.  In the silence
Katinka said, in ringing crystal tones, "I, for one, will need slaves
for my household.  I would welcome the opportunity to acquire good
workers even at those exorbitant prices."

"By international accord and protocol it is forbidden to sell
Christians into slavery," Schreuder pointed out, as he saw the
prospects of procuring labour for his fortifications beginning to
recede.  "Even Englishmen."

"Not all the captured pirates are Christians," Kleinhans persisted.  "I
saw a number of black faces among them.  Negro slaves are much in
demand in the colony.  They are good workers and breeders.  Would it
not be a most desirable compromise to sell them for guilders to please
the Seventeen?  We could then condemn the English pirates to lifelong
hard labour.  They could be used to hasten the completion of the works,
also to please the Seventeen."

Van de Velde grunted again, and scraped his plate noisily to draw
attention to the fact that he was ready to sample the beef.  He
pondered these conflicting arguments while a freshly loaded plate was
placed in front of him.  There was another consideration to take into
account of which no one else was aware.  his bitter hatred of Colonel
Schreuder.  He did not want to ease his lot in life and, truth to tell,
he would be delighted if the Colonel failed dismally in his new command
and was ordered home in disgrace just as long as that failure did not
redound to his own discredit.

He stared hard at Schreuder as he toyed with the idea of refusing him.
He knew, all too well, what that one had in mind and he turned his
attention from the Colonel to his wife.  Katinka looked radiant this
evening.  Within a few days of arriving at the Cape and moving into
their temporary quarters in the castle, she was fully recovered from
the long voyage and from the captivity forced upon them by Sir Francis
Courtney.  She was, of course, young and resilient, not yet twenty-four
years of age, but that alone did not account for her gaiety and
vivacity this evening.  Whenever the bumptious Schreuder spoke, which
was too often, she turned those huge, innocent eyes upon him, with full
attention.  When she spoke directly to him, which was also too often,
she touched him, laying one of her delicate white hands on his sleeve,
and once, to van de Velde's intense mortification, actually placing her
fingers on Schreuder's bony paw, letting them linger there for all the
company to see and smirk at.

It almost, but not quite, spoiled his appetite to have this blatant
courtship ritual take place not only under his nose but under the
collective noses of the entire colony.  It would have been bad enough
if, in private, he had been forced to face the fact that the valiant
Colonel would soon be rummaging around under those rustling petticoats.
It was insufferable that he must share this knowledge with all his
underlings.  How could he demand respect and sycophantic obedience from
them while his wife was set on publicly placing horns upon his head?
When I packed him off to Amsterdam to negotiate my ransom, I thought we
had seen the last of Colonel Schreuder, he thought sullenly.  It seems
I will have to take sterner measures in the future.

And as he ploughed his way through all sixteen courses, he turned over
in his mind the various alternatives.

Van de Velde was so stuffed with good food that the short walk from the
great hall of the castle to the council chamber was only accomplished
with much heavy breathing and the occasional pause, ostensibly to
admire the paintings and other works of art that decorated the walls,
but in reality to recover his resources.

In the chamber he settled with a vast sigh into the cushions of one of
the high-backed chairs, and accepted a glass of brandy and a pipe of
tobacco.

"I will convene the court to try the pirates this coming week, that is
immediately after I formally take over the governorship from Mijnheer
Kleinhans, he announced.  "No point in wasting any more time on this
riffraff.  I appoint Colonel Schreuder to act as attorney-general and
to prosecute the case.  I will take on the duties of judge."  He looked
across the table at his host.  "Will you have your officers make the
necessary arrangements please, Mijnheer Kleinhans."

"Certainly, Mijnheer van de Velde.  Have you given any thought to
appointing an advocate to defend the accused pirates?"

It was clear from van de Velde's expression that he had not, but now he
waved a pudgy paw and said airily, "See to that, will you?  I am sure
one of your clerks has sufficient knowledge of the law to perform the
duty adequately.  After all, what is there to defend?"  he asked, and
chuckled throatily.

"A name comes to mind."  Kleinhans nodded.  "I will appoint him and
arrange for him to have access to the prisoners to receive their
statements."

"Dear GodP Van de Velde looked scandalized.  "Why would you do that?  I
don't want that English rogue Courtney putting all sorts of ideas into
the man's head.  I will set out the facts for him.  He need only recite
them to the court."

"I understand," Kleinhans agreed.  "It will all be ready to hand over
to you before I step down next week."  He looked across at Katinka. "My
dear lady, you, of course, will wish to move out of your temporary
quarters here in the castle, and into the much more commodious and
comfortable Governor's residence as soon as possible.  I thought that
we could arrange an inspection of your new home after the church
service on Sunday.  I would be honoured to personally conduct you on a
tour of the establishment."

"That is kind, sir."  Katinka.  smiled at him, glad to be the focus of
attention once more.  For a moment Kleinhans basked in the warmth of
her approval, then went on diffidently, "As you can well imagine, I
have acquired a considerable household during my term of office in the
colony.  Coincidentally, the cooks who prepared the humble little meal
of which we partook this evening are part of my own span of slaves." He
glanced at van de Velde.  "I hope that their efforts met with your
approval.  When the Governor nodded comfortably, he turned back to
Katinka.  " As you know, very soon I shall return to the old country,
and into retirement on my small country estate.  Twenty slaves will be
far in excess of my future requirements.  You, Mevrouw, voiced your
interest in purchasing quality slaves.  I would like to take the
opportunity of your visit to the residence to show you those creatures
that I have for sale.  They have all been hand-picked, and I think you
will find it more convenient and cheaper to make a private acquisition
than to bid at public auction.  The trouble with buying slaves is that
those who look good value on the auction block can have serious hidden
defects.  It is always comforting to know that the seller has sound and
sufficient reasons for selling, is it not?"

Hal set a constant lookout at the high window of the cell.  There was
always one of the men standing on another's shoulders, clinging to the
bars, to keep a watch on the castle courtyard.  The lookout called down
all sightings to Hal, who in turn relayed these up the stairwell to his
father.

Within the first few days they were able to work out the timetable of
the garrison, and to note the routine comings and goings of the Company
officials, and of the free burghers who visited the castle regularly.

Hal called a description of each of these persons to the unseen leader
of the slave rebellion in the Skellum's Den.  Althuda knew the personal
details of every person in the settlement and passed on all this
accumulated knowledge, so that within the first few days Hal came to
know not only the appearance but also the personality and character of
each one.

He started a calendar, marking the passage of each day with a scratch
on a slab of sandstone in one corner of the cell and registering the
more important events beside it.  He was not certain that anything was
to be gained from these records, but at least it gave the men something
to talk about, and fostered the illusion that he had a plan of action
for their release or, failing that, for their escape.

"Governor's carriage at the staircase!"  the lookout warned, and Hal
jumped up from where he was sitting between Aboli and Daniel against
the far wall.

"Come down, he ordered.  "Let me up."

Through the bars he saw the state carriage parked at the foot of the
broad staircase that led up to the Company offices and the Governor's
suite.  The coachman's name was Fredricus, an elderly Javanese slave
who belonged to Governor Kleinhans.  According to Althuda, he was no
friend.  For thirty years he had been Kleinhans" dog, and he could not
be trusted.  Althuda suspected that he was the one who had betrayed
him, and had reported his return from the mountains to Major Loten. "We
will probably be rid of him when Kleinhans leaves the colony.  He is
sure to take Fredricus back with him to Holland," Althuda told them.

There was a sudden stir as a detachment of soldiers hurried across the
courtyard from the armoury and formed up at the foot of the
staircase.

Xleinhans going out," Hal called, recognizing these preparations, and
as he spoke the double doors swung open and a small party emerged into
the sunlight and descended towards the waiting carriage.

The tall, stooped figure of Kleinhans, with his sour dyspeptic face,
contrasted sharply with the lovely young woman on his arm.  Hal's heart
tripped as he recognized Katinka but his feelings were no longer as
intense as once they had been.  Instead, his eyes narrowed as he saw
that the Neptune sword hung in its chased and gold-encrusted scabbard
at Schreuder's side as the colonel followed Katinka down the stairs.
Each time he saw Schreuder wearing it his anger was rekindled.

Fredricus climbed stiffly from his high seat, folded down the steps,
opened the carriage door, then stood aside to allow the two gentlemen
to hand Katinka up and settle her comfortably.

"What is happening down there?"  his father called and, with a guilty
start, Hal realized that he had not spoken since he had laid eyes on
the woman he loved.  By now, though, she had been carried out of his
sight.  The carriage rolled out smoothly through the castle gates, and
the sentries saluted as Fredricus shook the horses into a trot across
the parade.

It was a sparkling autumn day, and the constant sou'-easter of summer
had dropped.  Katinka sat beside Governor Kleinhans, facing forward.
Cornelius Schreuder sat opposite her.  She had left her husband in his
office in the castle, labouring over his reports for the Seventeen, and
now she felt the devil in her.  She flounced out her skirts and the
rustling crinolines covered the Colonel's soft leather boots.

While still chatting animatedly to Kleinhans, she reached out one
slippered foot under cover of her skirts and found Schreuder's toe.
She pressed it coquettishly, and felt him start.  She pressed again,
and felt him respond sheepishly.  Then she turned from Kleinhans and
addressed Schreuder directly.  "Don't you agree, Colonel, that an
avenue of oaks leading up to the residence would look splendid?  I can
imagine their thick hard trunks standing up vigorously.  How beautiful
that would be."  She opened her violet eyes wide to give the remark
signicance, and pressed his foot again.

"Indeed, Mevrouw."  Schreuder's voice was husky with double meaning. "I
agree with you entirely.  In fact the image you paint is so vivid that
you should be able to see the stem growing before your very eyes."

At this invitation she glanced down at his lap and, to her amusement,
saw the effect that she was having.  upon him.  He is putting up a tent
in his breeches for my sake!

Almost a mile beyond the forbidding pile of the castle, the Governor's
residence stood at the mountain end of the Company gardens.  It was a
graceful building, with dark thatched roof and whitewashed walls,
surrounded by wide shady verandas.  Laid out in the shape of a cross,
the gables at each of the four ends of the house were decorated with
plaster friezes depicting the seasons.  The gardens were well
established, a succession of Company gardeners had lavished love and
care upon them.

Even from a distance Katinka was delighted with her new home.  She had
dreaded being lodged in some ugly, bucolic hovel, but this far
surpassed her most optimistic expectations.  The entire domestic staff
of the residence was drawn up on the wide front terrace to greet her.

The carriage rolled to a standstill and her two escorts hastened to
help Katinka to earth.  At a prearranged signal all the waiting
manservants lifted their hats, and bowed so low as to sweep the ground
before her with their head-gear, while the females dropped into deep
curtsies.  Katinka acknowledged their greeting with a cool nod, and
Klein, hans introduced each of them in turn to her.  Most were merely
brown or yellow faces that made no impression whatsoever on her, and
she glanced vaguely in their direction then passed on, hurrying through
this tedious little ritual as swiftly as she could.

However, one or two caught and held her attention for more than a few
moments.

"This is the head gardener."  Kleinhans summoned the man with a snap of
his fingers, and he stood bareheaded before her, holding over his chest
the high-crowned Puritan Hat with its silver buckled band and wide
brim.  "He is a man of some importance in our community," Kleinhans
said.  "Not only is he responsible for these beautiful surroundings,"
he indicated the wide green lawns and splendid flower beds, "and for
providing each Company ship that calls into Table Bay with fresh fruit
and vegetables, but he is also the official executioner."

Katinka had been on the point of passing on, but now, with a small
thrill of excitement, she turned back to study this creature.  He
towered above her, and she looked UP into his strange pale eyes,
imagining what dread sights they had seen.  Then she glanced down at
his hands.  They were farmer's hands, broad and strong and calloused,
the backs covered with stiff bristles.  She imagined them holding a
spade or a branding iron, a pitchfork or the knotted coil of the
strangling cord.

"They call you Stadige Jan?"  She had heard the name spoken with
fascination and revulsion, the way one speaks of a deadly, venomous
snake.  ja, Mevrouw."  He nodded.  "That is what they call me."  "A
strange name.  Why?"  She found his level yellow stare disquieting, as
though he was looking at something far behind her.

"Because I speak slowly.  Because I never rush.  Because I am thorough.
Because plants grow slowly and fruitfully under my hands.  Because men
die slowly and painfully under these same hands."  He held up one for
her to examine.  His voice was sonorous yet melodious- She found
herself swallowing hard with a strange, perverse arousal.

"We are soon to have a chance to watch you work, Stadige Jan."  She
smiled slightly breathlessly.  "I believe that the dungeon of the
castle is full of rogues awaiting your ministrations."  She had a
sudden image of those broad strong hands working on Hal Courtney's slim
straight body, the body she knew so well, changing it, gradually
breaking it down.  The muscles in her thighs and lower belly tightened
at the thought.  it would be the ultimate thrill to see the beautiful
toy of which she had tired being maimed and disfigured, but slowly and
slowly.

"We must talk again, Stadige Jan," she said huskily.  "I am sure you
-have many amusing stories to tell me, about cabbages and other
things."  He bowed again, replaced the Hat on his shaven head and
stepped back into the line of servants.  Katinka passed on.

"This is my housekeeper," Kleinhans said, but Katinka was so engrossed
in her thoughts that, for several seconds, she gave no indication that
she had heard him.  Then she threw an idle glance at the female
Kleinhans was presenting, and suddenly her eyes widened.  She turned
her full attention on the woman.  "Her name is Sukeena."  There was
something in Kleinhans" tone that she could not immediately fathom.

"She is very young for such an important position," Katinka said, to
gain time in which to allow her instincts to have play.  In an entirely
different manner, she found this woman as enthralling as the
executioner.  She was so exquisitely small and dainty as to seem an
artist's creation and not flesh and blood.

"It is a characteristic of her race to appear much younger than their
years," Kleinhans told her.  "They have such small childlike bodies you
will observe her tiny waist and her hands and feet, like those of a
doll."  He broke off abruptly, as he realized that he might have
committed a solecism in discussing another woman's bodily parts.

Katinka's expression did not change to reveal the amusement she felt.
The old goat lusts for her, she thought, and she studied the jewel-like
qualities to which he had drawn her attention.  The girl wore a high
collar, but the stuff of her blouse was sheer and light as gossamer.
Like the rest of her, her breasts were tiny but perfect.  Katinka could
see the shape and colour of her nipples through the silk.  they were
like a pair of imperial rubies wrapped in gossamer.  That dress,
although simple and of classical Eastern design, must have cost fifty
guilders at the very least.  Her sandals were gold-embroidered, rich
raiment for a house slave.  At her throat she wore an ornament of
carved jade, a jewel fit for a mandarin's favourite.  The girl must
certainly be Kleinhans" pretty bauble, she decided.

Katinka's first carnal fulfilment had been at the age of thirteen, on
the threshold of puberty.  In the seclusion of the nursery, her nurse
had introduced her to those forbidden delights.  Occasionally, when her
fancy dictated and opportunity presented, she still voyaged to the
enchanted isles of Lesbos.  Often she had found there enchantments that
no man had been able to afford her.  Now as she looked up from the
childlike body to the dark eyes, she felt a tremor of desire run down
her own belly and melt into her loins.

Sukeena's gaze smouldered like the lavas of the volcanoes of her native
Bali.  These were not the eyes of a subservient child slave but those
of a proud, defiant woman.  Katinka felt herself challenged and
aroused.  To subdue her, and have her, and then to break her.  She felt
her pulse quicken and her breath come short as she pictured it
happening.

"Follow me, Sukeena," she commanded.  "I want you to show me the
house."  "My lady."  Sukeena placed the palms of her hands together and
touched her fingertips to her lips as she bowed, but her eyes held
Katinka's with the same dark, furious expression.  Was it hatred,
Katinka wondered, and the idea increased her excitement.

Sukeena has intrigued her, as I knew she must.  She will buy her from
me, Kleinhans thought.  I will be rid of the witch at last.  He had
been aware of that interplay of passions and emotions between the two
women.  Although he did not flatter himself that he could fathom the
slave girl's oriental mind, she had been his chattel for almost five
years and he had learned to recognize many of the nuances of her moods.
The thought of parting with her filled him with dismay but for his own
peace and sanity he knew he must do it.  She was destroying him.  He
could not remember what it was to have a quiet mind, not to be plagued
and tormented by passions and unfulfilled desires, not to be in the
witch's thrall.  Because of her he had lost his health.  His stomach
was being eaten away by the hot acids of dyspepsia, and he could not
remember a night of unbroken sleep in all those long five years.

At least he was rid of her brother, who had been almost as great a
torment to him.  Now she, too, must go.  He could no longer endure this
blight on his existence.

Sukeena stepped out of the line of servants and fell in dutifully
behind the three, her loathsome master, the boorish giant of a soldier
and this beautiful cruel golden lady, who, she sensed somehow, already
held her destiny in those slim white hands.

I will wrest it from her, Sukeena vowed.  This vile old man could not
own me, although for the last five years he has dreamed of nothing
else.  Neither will this golden tiger woman ever own me.  I swear it on
my father's sacred memory.

They passed in a group through the high airy rooms of the residence.
Through the green-painted shutters spilled the mellow Cape sunshine,
casting stark zebra shadows on the tiled floors.  Katinka felt a
lightness of the spirit in these sunny colonies.  She felt a
recklessness in herself, an eagerness for strange adventures and for
un-fathomed excitements.

In every room she encountered a subtle, delicate feminine influence. It
was not only the lingering perfume of flowers and incense, but some
other living presence that she knew could never have emanated from the
sad and sick old man at her side.  She did not have to glance behind
her to be aware of the girl who had created this aura, her silk
clothing whispering and the susurration of the golden sandals on her
tiny feet, the scent of the jasmine blossom in her coal-dark hair and
the sweet musk of her skin.

In counterpoint, there was the crisp staccato click of the Colonel's
heels on the tiles, the creak of his leather and the clink of his
scabbard as it swung at his side.  His scent was more powerful than
that of the girl.  It was masculine and rank, sweat and leather and
animal, like a stallion pushed hard, bounding between her thighs.  In
this emotional hothouse in which she found herself, every one of her
senses was fully engaged.

At last Governor Kleinhans led them out of the house and across the
lawns to where a small gazebo stood, secluded beneath the oaks.  An
alfresco repast had been laid for them, and Sukeena stood in close
attendance, directing the service of the meal with a glance or a
subtle, graceful gesture.

Katinka noticed that as each dish or bottle was presented Sukeena
tasted a morsel or took a delicate sip, like a butterfly at an open
orchid.  Her silence was not selfeffacing, for all three seated at the
table were intensely aware of her presence.

Cornelius Schreuder sat so close to Katinka that his leg pressed
against hers whenever he leaned close to speak to her.  They looked
down towards the bay, where the Standvastigheid lay at anchor, not far
from the Gull of Moray.  The galleon had come in during the night,
fully laden with her cargo of recovered spices and timber.  She would
carry Kleinhans northwards on the next leg of her voyage, so he was in
haste to settle his affairs here in the Cape.  Katinka smiled sweetly
at the old man over the rim of her wine glass, knowing that she had him
at a disadvantage in the bargaining.

"I wish to sell fifteen of my slaves," he told her, "and I have
prepared a list of them, setting out their personal details, their
skills and training, their ages and the state of their health.  Five of
the females are pregnant, so already the buyer will be assured of an
increase on his, or her, investment."

Katinka glanced at the document he handed her, then dropped it on the
table top.  "Tell me about Sukeena."  she commanded.  "Am I mistaken,
or have I detected in her a drop of northern blood?  Was her father
Dutch?"

Although Sukeena stood close by, Katinka spoke about the girl as though
she were an inanimate object, without hearing or human sensitivity, a
pretty piece of jewellery or a miniature painting, perhaps.

"You are observant, Mevrouw."  Kleinhans inclined his head.  "But no,
her father was not Dutch.  He was an English trader and her mother was
a Balinese but, nonetheless, a woman of high breeding.  When I saw her
she was in her middle age.  However, I understand that in her youth she
was a great beauty.  Although she was merely his concubine, the English
trader treated her like a wife."

All three studied Sukeena's features openly.  "Yes, you can see the
European blood.  It is the tone of her skin, and the set and shape of
her eyes," said Katinka.

Sukeena kept her eyes lowered, and her expression did not change.
Smoothly she continued with her duties.

"What do you think of her appearance, Colonel?"  Katinka turned to
Schreuder, and pressed her leg against his.  "I am always interested in
what a man finds attractive.  Do you not think her a delicious little
creature?"

Schreuder flushed slightly, and moved his chair so that he was no
longer looking directly at Sukeena.

"Mevrouw, I have never had a penchant for native girls, even if they
are half-castes."  Sukeena's face remained impassive even though, at
six feet from him, she had heard the derogatory description clearly.

"My tastes incline very much towards our lovely Dutch girls.  I would
not trade the dross for the pure gold."

"Oh, Colonel, you are so gallant.  I envy the pure golden Dutch girl
who catches your fancy."  She laughed, and he gave her a look more
eloquent than the words that rose to his lips, but perforce remained
unspoken.

Katinka turned back to Kleinhans.  "So if her father was English, does
she speak that language?  That would be a useful accomplishment, would
it not?"  indeed, she speaks it with great fluency, but that is not
all. She has a way with guilders and runs the household with great
economy and efficiency.  The other slaves respect and obey her.  She
has intimate knowledge of Oriental medicines and remedies for all
illness-" "A paragon!"  Katinka interrupted his recital.  "But what of
her nature?  Is she tractable, docile?"

"She is as she appears," said Kleinhans, concealing the evasion with a
ready reply and open face.  "I assure you, Mevrouw, that I have owned
her for five years and have always found her completely compliant."

Sukeena's face remained as if carved in jade, lovely and remote, but
her soul seethed with outrage at the lie.  For five years she had
withstood him, and only on the few occasions when he had beaten her
unconscious had he been able to invade her body.  But that had been no
victory for him, she knew, and "took comfort from that knowledge.
Twice she had recovered her senses while he was still grunting and
straining over her like an animal, forcing himself into her dry,
reluctant flesh. She did not count this as defeat, she did not even
admit to herself that he had conquered her, for the moment that she
regained consciousness she had begun to fight him again, with all the
strength and determination of before.

"You are not a woman," he had cried in despair, as she thrashed and
kicked and wormed out from under him, "you are a devil," and, bleeding
where she had bitten him and covered with deep gouges and scratches, he
had slunk away, leaving her battered but triumphant.  In the end he had
given up any attempt at forcing her into submission, and instead had
tried every other blandishment.

Once, weeping like an old woman, he had even offered her freedom and
marriage, her deed of emancipation on the day that she married him.

She spat like a cat at the thought.

Twice she had tried to kill him.  Once with a dagger and once with
poison.  Now he made her taste every dish or bowl she served him, but
the thought sustained her that one day she might succeed and watch his
death throes.

"She does seem to have an angelic presence," Katinka agreed, knowing
instinctively that the description would enrage its subject.  "Come
here, Sukeena," she ordered, and the girl came to her moving like a
reed in the wind.

"Kneel down!"  said Katinka, and Sukeena knelt before her, her eyes
modestly downcast.  "Look at me!"  She raised her head.

Katinka studied her face, and spoke to Kleinhans without looking at
him.  "You say she is healthy?"

"Young and healthy, never a day's illness in her life."

"Is she pregnant?"  Katinka asked, and ran her hand lightly over the
girl's stomach.  It was flat and hard.

"No!  No!"  Kleinhans exclaimed.  "She is a virgin."

"There is never any guarantee of that state.  The devil enters even the
most heavily barred fortress."  Katinka smiled.  "But I will accept
your word on it.  I want to see her teeth.  Open your mouth."  For a
moment she thought Sukeena would refuse, but then her lips parted, and
her small teeth sparkled in the sunlight, whiter than freshly carved
ivory.

Katinka laid the tip of her finger on the girl's lower lip.  It felt
soft as a rose petal, and Katinka let the moment hang, drawing out the
pleasure, prolonging Sukeena's humiliation.  Then, slowly and
voluptuously, she ran her finger between the girl's lips.  "The gesture
was sexually fraught, a parody of the masculine penetration of the
woman.  As he watched, Kleinhans'hand began to tremble so violently
that the sweet Constantia wine spilled over the rim of the glass he
held.  Cornelius Schreuder scowled and moved uneasily in his seat,
crossing one leg over the other.

The inside of Sukeena's mouth was soft and moist.  The two women stared
at each other.  Then Katinka began to move her finger slowly back and
forth, exploring and probing while she asked Kleinhans, "Her father,
this Englishman, what happened to him?  If he loved his concubine, as
you say he did, why did he allow her children to be sold on the slave
block?"

"He was one of the English bandits that were executed while I was
Governor of Batavia.  I am sure you are acquainted with the incident,
are you not, Mevrouw?"

"Yes, I recall it well, The accused men were tortured by the Company
executioner to ascertain the extent of their villainy," Katinka said
softly, still gazing into Sukeena's eyes.  The extremity of the
suffering she saw in them amazed and intrigued her.  "I did not know
that you were the Governor at that time.  The girl's father was
executed at your orders, then?"  Katinka asked, and Sukeena's lips
quivered and closed softly around Katinka's long white finger.

"I have heard that they were crucified," Katinka breathed huskily, and
Sukeena's eyes filled with tears although her features remained serene.
"I have heard that burning sulphur flares were applied to their feet,"
Katinka said, and felt the girl's tongue slide over her finger as she
swallowed her grief.  "And then the flares were held under their
hands."  Sukeena's sharp little teeth closed on her finger, not hard
enough to be painful and certainly not hard enough to break or mark the
white skin, but the threat was in her eyes, which were filled with
hatred.

"I regret that it was necessary.  The man's obstinacy was
extraordinary.  It must be a national trait of the English."  Kleinhans
nodded.  "To endorse the punishment I ordered that the condemned man's
concubine, her name was Ashreth, be made to watch the execution, she
and the two children.  Of course, at the time I knew nothing of Sukeena
and her brother.  It was not idle cruelty on my part but Company
policy.  These people do not respond to kindness, which they mistake
for weakness."  Kleinhans gave a sigh of regret at such
intransigence.

The tears were sliding silently down Sukeena's cheeks as Kleinhans went
on, "Once they had fully confessed their guilt, the criminals were
burned.  The flares were thrown onto the faggots of wood at their feet
and the whole lot went up in the flames, which was a merciful release
for all of us."

With a small shudder Katinka withdrew her finger from between the
girl's trembling lips.  With the tenderness of a satisfied lover she
stroked the satiny cheek, her finger still wet with the girl's saliva
leaving damp streaks on the amber skin.

"What happened to the woman, the concubine?  Was she also sold into
slavery with the children?"  Katinka asked, not taking her gaze from
those grief-wet eyes in front of her.

"No," Kleinhans said.  "That is the strange part of the story.  Ashreth
threw herself into the flames and perished on the same pyre as her
English lover.  There is no understanding the native mind, is there?"

There was a long silence, and when a cloud passed over the sun the day
seemed suddenly dark and chill.

"I will take her," Katinka said, so softly that Kleinhans cupped a hand
to his ear.

"Please excuse me, Mevrouw, but I did not catch what you said."

"I will take her," Katinka repeated.  "This girl, Sukeena, I will buy
her from you."

"We have not yet agreed a price."  Kleinhans looked startled.  he had
not expected it to be so easy.

"I am certain your price will be reasonable that is, if you also wish
to sell me the other slaves in your span."

"You are a lady of great compassion."  Kleinhans shook his head in
admiration.  "I see that Sukeena's story has touched your heart and
that you want to take her into your care.  Thank you.  I know you will
treat her kindly.-" Hal hung on the grating of the cell window and
called his sighting to Aboli, who held him on his shoulders.

"They have returned in the Governor's carriage.  The three of them,
Kleinhans, Schreuder and Governor van de Velde's wife.  They are going
back up the staircase " He broke off and exclaimed, "Wait!  There is
someone else alighting from the carriage.  Someone I do not know.  A
woman."

Daniel, who was standing at the grille gate, relayed this message up
the staircase to the solitary cells at the top.  "Describe this strange
woman," Sir Francis called.

At that moment the woman turned to say something to Fredricus the
driver and, with a start, Hal recognized her as the slave girl who had
stood in the crowd while they were being marched across the parade.

"She is small and young, almost a child.  Balinese, perhaps, or
Malaccan, something about the look of her."  He hesitated.  "She is
probably of mixed blood, and almost certainly a servant or a slave.
Kleinhans and Schreuder walk ahead of her."

Daniel passed this on, and suddenly Althuda's voice came back to them
down the stairwell.  "Is she very pretty?  Long dark hair twisted up on
top of her head, with flowers in it.  Does she wear a green jade
ornament at her throat?"

"All those things," Hal shouted back.  "Except that she is not pretty,
she is lovely beyond the telling of it.  Do you know her?  Who is
she?"

"Her name is Sukeena.  She is the one for whom I came back from the
mountains.  She is my little sister."

Hal watched Sukeena mount the stairs, moving with the lightness and
alacrity of an autumn leaf in a gust of wind.  Somehow, while he
watched this girl, his thoughts of Katinka were not so all-consuming.
When she disappeared from his sight, the light filtering into the
dungeon seemed dimmer and the stone walls more damp and cold.  first
they had all been amazed by the treatment meted out to them in the
castle dungeons.  They were allowed to slop out the latrine bucket
every morning, drawing lots for the privilege.  At the end of the first
week, a load of" fresh straw was delivered by one of the Company field
slaves, driving an ox cart and they were allowed to throw out the
verminous old straw that covered the floors.  Through a copper pipe the
water cistern was fed continuously from one of the streams that rushed
down from the mountain, so they suffered no hardship from thirst.  Each
evening a loaf of coarse-grained bread, the size of a wagon wheel, and
a great iron pot were sent down from the kitchens.  The pot was filled
with the peelings and off cuts of vegetables, boiled up with the meat
of seals captured on Robben Island.  This stew was more plentiful and
tastier than much of the food they had eaten aboard ship.

Althuda laughed when he heard them discussing it.  "They also feed
their oxen well.  Dumb animals work better when they are strong."

"We ain't doing much work here and now," Daniel remarked comfortably,
and patted his belly.

Althuda laughed again.  "Look out of the window," he advised them.

"There is a fort to build.  You will not be sitting down here much
longer.  Believe me when I say it."

"Ahoy there, Althuda," Daniel shouted, "your sister isn't English, so
it makes sense that you aren't an Englishman either.  How is it that
you speak like one?"

"My father was from Plymouth.  I have never been there.  Do you know
the place?"

There was a roar of laughter and comment and clapping, and Hal spoke
for them all.  "By God, except for Aboli and these other African
knaves, we are all Devon men and true.  You are one of us, then,
Althuda!"

"You have never seen me.  I must warn you that I don't look like
you,"Althuda warned them.  "if you look half as good as your little
sister, then you'll do well enough," Hal replied, and the men hooted
with laughter.

For the first week of their captivity, they saw the sergeant gaoler,
named Manseer, only when the stew pot was brought in or when the
bedding straw was changed then, suddenly, on the eighth morning, the
iron door at the head of the stairs was thrown open with a crash and
Manseer bellowed down the well, "Two at a time, form up.  We are taking
you out to wash some of the stink off you, or the judge will suffocate
before he has a chance to send you to Stadige Jan.  Come on now, shake
yourselves."

With a dozen guards keeping watch over them they were taken out in
pairs, made to -strip naked and wash themselves and their clothing
under the hand pump behind the stables.

The following morning they were turned out again with the dawn, and
this time the castle armourer was waiting with his forge and anvil to
shackle them together, not this time in one long ungainly file but into
pairs.

When the iron-studded door to Sir Francis's cell was opened, and his
father emerged with his hair hanging lankly to his shoulders and a
grizzled beard covering his chin, Hal pushed himself forward so that
they were shackled together.

"How are you, Father?"  Hal asked with concern, for he had never seen
his father looking so seedy.

Before Sir Francis could reply a bout of coughing overtook him.  When
it passed, he answered hoarsely, "I prefer a good Channel gate to the
air down here, but I am well enough for what has to be done."

"I could not shout it to you, but Aboli and I have been working out a
plan to escape," Hal whispered to him.  "We have managed to lift one of
the floor slabs in the back of the cell and we are going to dig a
tunnel under the walls."

"With your bare hands?"  Sir Francis smiled at him.

"We need to find a tool," Hal admitted, "but when we do..."

He nodded with grim determination, and Sir Francis felt his heart might
burst with love and pride.  I have taught him to be a fighter, and to
keep on fighting even when the battle is lost.  Sweet God, I hope the
Dutchies spare him the fate that they have in store for me.

In the middle of the morning they were marched from the courtyard up
the staircase into the main hall of the castle, which had been
converted into a courtroom.  Shackled two by two, they were led to the
four rows of low wooden benches in the centre of the floor and seated
upon them, Sir Francis and Hal in the middle of the front row.  Their
guards, with drawn swords, lined up along the wall behind them.

A platform had been built against the wall before them and on it,
facing the benches of the prisoners, was set a heavy table and a tall
chair of dark teak.  This was the judge's throne.  At one end of the
table was a stool, on which the court writer was already seated,
scribbling busily in his journal.  Below the platform was another pair
of tables and chairs.  At one of these sat someone Hal had seen many
times before through the cell window.  According to Althuda, he was a
junior clerk in the Company administration.  His name was Jacobus Hop
and, after one nervous glance at the prisoners, he did not look at them
again.  He was rustling and scratching through a sheaf of documents,
pausing from time to time to wipe his sweating face with a large white
neck cloth

At the second table sat Colonel Cornelius Schreuder.  He was the
romantic poet's image of the gallant and debonair soldier, all
a-glitter with his medallions and stars and the wide sash across one
shoulder.  His wig was freshly washed, the curls hanging down to his
shoulders.  His legs were thrust out in front of him, his soft
thigh-high boots crossed at the ankles.  On the table top in front of
him books and papers were scattered and laid carelessly upon them were
his plumed Hat and the Neptune sword.  As he rocked backwards and
forwards on his chair he stared relentlessly at Hal, and though Hal
tried to match his gaze he was forced at last to drop his eyes.

There was a sudden uproar at the main doors, and when they swung open
the crowds from the town burst in and scrambled to find seats on the
benches down each side of the hall.  As soon as the last seat was
taken, the doors were forced closed again in the faces of those
unfortunates at the rear.  Now the hall was clamorous with excited
comment and anticipation, as the lucky spectators studied the prisoners
and loudly gave their opinions to each other.

To one side an area had been railed off, and two green, jackets with
drawn swords stood guard over it.  Behind the railing a row of
comfortable cushioned chairs had been arranged.  Now there was further
hubbub, and the crowd's attention turned from the accused men to the
dignitaries who filed out through the doors of the audience chamber.
Governor Kleinhans led them, with Katinka van de Velde on his arm,
followed by Lord Cumbrae and Captain Limberger, chatting casually
together, ignoring the stir that their entrance was causing among the
common folk.

Katinka took the chair in the centre of the row.  Hal stared at her,
willing her to look in his direction, to give him a sign of recognition
and reassurance.  He tried to sustain in himself the faith that she
would never abandon him, and that she had already used her influence
and had interceded with her husband for mercy, but she was deep in
conversation with Governor Kleinhans and never as much as glanced at
the ranks of English seamen.  She does not want others to see her
preference and concern for us, Hal consoled himself, but when the time
comes for her to give her evidence she will surely speak out for us.

Colonel Schreuder clumped down his booted feet heavily and came to his
feet.  He stared around the crowded hall with huge disdain, and the
female spectators gave little sighs and squeals of admiration.

"This tribunal is convened by virtue of the power conferred upon the
honourable Dutch East India Company in the terms of the charter issued
to the aforesaid Company by the government of the Republic of Holland
and the Lowlands.  Pray silence and stand for the president of the
tribunal, His Excellency Governor Petrus van de Velde."

The spectators came to their feet with a subdued murmur and stared in
anticipation at the door behind the platform.  Some of the prisoners
struggled up, rattling their chains, but when they saw Sir Francis
Courtney and Hal sit unmoving they subsided back onto the benches.

Through the far door appeared the president of the court.  He mounted
ponderously to the platform and glared down upon the seated rows of
prisoners.  "Get those rogues on their feed" he bellowed suddenly.  and
the crowds quailed before his murderous expression.

In the stunned silence that followed this outburst, Sir Francis spoke
out clearly in Dutch.  "Neither I nor any of my men recognize the
authority of this assembly, nor do we accept the right of the
self-appointed president to examine and sentence free-born Englishmen,
subjects only of His Majesty King Charles the Second.  Van de Velde
seemed to swell like a great toad.  His face turned a dark and furious
shade of crimson, and he roared, "You are a pirate and a murderer.  By
the sovereignty of the Republic and the charter of the Company, by the
right of moral and international law, the authority is vested in me to
conduct this trial."  He broke off to gasp for breath, then went on
even louder than before.  "I find you guilty of gross and flagrant
contempt of this court, and I sentence you to ten strokes of the cane
to be administered forthwith."  He looked to the commander of the
guard.  "Master of arms, take the prisoner into the courtyard and carry
out the sentence at once."

Four soldiers hurried forward from the back of the hall, and hauled Sir
Francis to his feet.  Hal, shackled to his father, was dragged with him
to the main doors.  Behind them, men and women leaped onto the benches
and craned for a view, then rushed in a body to the doorway and the
windows as Sir Francis and Hal were urged down the staircase into the
yard.

Sir Francis kept silent, his head high and his back straight, as he was
pushed to the hitching rail for officer's horses at the entrance of the
armoury.  At the shouted orders of the sergeant, he and Hal were placed
on either side of the high rail, facing each other, their manacled
wrists hooked into the iron rings.

Hal was powerless to intervene.  The sergeant placed his forefinger in
the back of the collar of Sir Francis's shirt and yanked down,
splitting the cotton to the waist.  Then he stepped back and swished
his light malacca cane.

"You have made an oath on your Knighthood.  Do you stand by it on your
honour?"  Sir Francis whispered to his son.

"I do, Father."

The cane fluted and snapped on his bare flesh, and Sir Francis winced.
"This beating is but a little thing, the play of children compared to
what must follow.  Do you understand that?"

"I understand full well."

The sergeant struck again.  He was laying the stripes one on top of the
other, the pain multiplying with each blow.

"No matter what you do or say, nothing and no one can change the flight
of the red comet.  The stars have laid out my destiny and you cannot
intervene."

The cane hummed and cracked, and Sir Francis's body stiffened, then
relaxed.

"If you are strong and constant, you will endure.  That will be my
reward."

This time he gave a small, hoarse gasp as the cane bit into the tautly
stretched muscles of his back.

"You are my body and my blood.  Through you I also will endure."

The cane hummed and clapped, again and again.

"Swear it to me one last time.  Reinforce your oath, that you will
never reveal anything to these people in a futile attempt to save
me."

"Father, I swear it to you," Hal whispered back, his face white as
bleached bone, as the cane sang, a succession of cruel blows.

"I put all my faith and my trust in you," said Sir Francis, and the
soldiers lifted him down from the railing.  As they marched back up the
staircase, he leaned lightly on Hal's arm.  When he stumbled Hal braced
him, so that his head was still high and his bloody back straight as
they entered the hall and marched together to their seats on the front
bench.

Governor van de Velde was now seated on the dais.  A silver tray was
set at his elbow, loaded with small china bowls of appetizers and
spiced savouries.  He was munching contentedly on one of these and
drinking from a pewter mug of small beer as he chatted to Colonel
Schreuder at the table below him.  As soon as Sir Francis and Hal were
shoved by their guards onto the bench again his amiable expression
changed dramatically.  He raised his voice and an immediate, dense
silence fell over the assembly.  "I trust that I have made it clear
that I will brook no further hindrance to these proceedings."  He
glowered at Sir Francis and then raised his eyes to sweep the hall.
"That goes for all persons gathered here.  Anyone else who in any way
attempts to make a mockery of this tribunal will receive the same
treatment as the prisoner."  He looked down at Schreuder.  "Who appears
for the prosecution?"

Schreuder stood up.  "Colonel Cornelius Schreuder, at your service,
your excellency."

"Who appears for the defence?"  Van de Velde glowered at Jacobus Hop,
and the clerk sprang to his feet, sending half the documents in front
of him showering to the tiles.

"I do, your excellency."

"State your name, man!"  van de Velde roared at him, and Hop wriggled
like a puppy.

He stammered, "Jacobus Hop, clerk and writer to the Honourable Dutch
East India Company."  This declaration took a long time to enunciate.

"In future speak out and speak clear," van de Velde warned him, then
turned back to Schreuder.  "You may proceed to present your case,
Colonel."

"This is a matter of piracy on the high seas, together with murder and
abduction.  The accused are twenty-four in number.  With your
indulgence, I will now read a list of their names.  Each prisoner will
stand when his name is read so that the court may recognize him."  From
the sleeve of his tunic he drew a roll of parchment and held it at
arm's length.  "The foremost accused person is Francis Courtney,
captain of the pirate bark the Lady Edwina.  Your excellency, he is the
leader and instigator of all the criminal acts perpetrated by this pack
of sea wolves and corsairs."  Van de Velde nodded his understanding and
Schreuder went on.  "Henry Courtney, officer and mate.  Ned Tyler,
boatswain.  Daniel Fisher, boatswain ..."  He recited the name and rank
of each man on the benches, and each stood briefly, some of them
bobbing their heads and grinning ingratiatingly at van de Velde.  The
last four names on Schreuder's list were those of the black seamen.
"Matesi, a Negro slave.

"Jiri, a Negro slave.  "Kimatti, a Negro slave.  "Aboli, a Negro
slave.

"The prosecution will prove that on the fourth day of September in the
year of Our Lord sixteen sixty-seven, Francis Courtney, while
commanding the caravel the Lady Edwina, of which the other prisoners
were all crew members, did fall upon the galleon De Standvastigheid,
Captain Limberger commanding ..."  Schreudet spoke without reference to
notes or papers, and Hal felt a reluctant admiration for the
thoroughness and lucidity of his accusations.

"And now, your excellency, if you please, I should like to call my
first witness."  Van de Velde nodded, and Schreuder turned and looked
across the floor.  "Call Captain Limberger."

The captain of the galleon left his comfortable chair in the railed-off
enclosure, crossed to the platform and stepped up onto it.  The
witness's chair stood beside the judge's table and Limberger seated
himself.

"Do you understand the gravity of this matter and swear in the name of
Almighty God to tell the truth before this court?"  van de Velde asked
him.

"I do, your excellency."

"Very well, Colonel, you may question your witness."  Swiftly Schreuder
led Limberger through a recital of his name, rank and his duties for
the Company.  He then asked for a description of the Standvastigheid,
her passengers and her cargo.  Limberger read his replies from the list
he had prepared.  When he had finished Schreuder asked, "Who was the
owner of this ship and of the cargo she was carrying?"

"The honourable Dutch East India Company."

"Now, Captain Limberger, on the fourth of September of this year was
your ship voyaging in about latitude thirty four degrees south and
longitude four degrees east that is approximately fifty leagues south
of the Agulhas Cape?"

"It was."

"That is some time after the cessation of hostilities between Holland
and England?"

"Yes, it was."

Schreuder picked up a leather-bound log-book from the table in front of
him and passed it up to Limberger.  "Is this the log-book that you were
keeping on board your ship during that voyage?"

Limberger examined it briefly, "Yes, Colonel, this is my log."

Schreuder looked at van de Velde.  "Your excellency, I think I should
inform you that the log-book was found in the possession of the pirate
Courtney after his capture by Company troops."  Van de Velde nodded,
and Schreuder looked at Limberget.  "Will you please read to us the
last entry in your log?"

Limberger turned the pages and then read aloud, "Fourth September
sixteen sixty-seven.  Two bells in the morning watch.  Position by dead
reckoning four degrees twenty-three minutes south latitude thirty4 our
degrees, forty-five minutes east longitude.  Strange sail in sight
bearing south-south-east.  Flying friendly colours."" Limberger closed
the log and looked up.  "The entry ends there," he said.

"Was that strange sail noted in your log the caravel the Lady Edwina,
and was she flying the colours of the Republic and the Company?"

"Yes, to both questions."

"Will you recount the events that took place after you sighted the Lady
Edwina, please."

Limberger gave a clear description of the capture of his ship, with
Schreuder making him emphasize Sir Francis's use of false.  colours to
get within striking distance.  After Limberger had told of the boarding
and fighting on board the galleon, Schreuder asked for a detailed
account of the numbers of Dutch sailors wounded and killed.  Limberger
had a written list prepared and handed this to the court.

"Thank you, Captain.  Can you tell us what happened to you, your crew
and your passengers once the pirates had taken control of your ship?"

Limberger went on to describe how they had sailed east in company with
the Lady Edwina, the transfer of cargo and gear from the caravel into
the galleon, and the dispatch of the Lady Edwina in command of
Schreuder to the Cape with letters of demand for ransom, the onward
voyage aboard the captured galleon to Elephant Lagoon and the captivity
of himself and his eminent passengers there until their salvation by
the expeditionary force from the Cape, led by Schreuder and Lord
Cumbrae.

When Schreuder had finished questioning him, van de Velde looked at
Hop.  "Do you have any questions, Mijnheer?"

With both hands full of papers Hop stood up, blushed furiously, then
took a deep, gulping breath and let out a long, unbroken stammer.
Everybody in the hall watched his agony with interest, and at last van
de Velde spoke.  "Captain Limberger intends sailing for Holland in two
weeks" time.  Do you think you will have asked your question by then,
Hop?", .  Hop shook his head.  "No questions," he said at last, and sat
down heavily.

"Who is your next witness, Colonel?"  van de Velde asked, as soon as
Limberger had left the witness chair and was seated back in the
enclosure.

"I would like to call the Governor's wife, Mevrouw Katinka van de
Velde.  That is, if it does not inconvenience her."

There was a masculine hum of approval as Katinka rustled her silk and
her laces to the witness's chair.  Sir Francis felt Hal stiffen beside
him, but did not turn to look at his face.  Only days before their
capture, when Hal had been absent from the camp for long periods and
had begun to neglect his duties, he had realized that his son had
fallen into the golden whore's snare.  By then it had been far too late
to intervene, and in any case, he remembered what it was like to be
young and in love, even with an utterly unsuitable woman, and had
understood the futility of trying to prevent what had already
happened.

He had been waiting for the correct moment and the right means to end
the liaison when Schreuder and the Buzzard had attacked the camp.

With great deference, Schreuder led Katinka gently through the recital
of her name and position and then asked her to describe her voyage
aboard the Standvastigheid, and how she had been taken prisoner.

She answered in a sweet, Clear voice that throbbed with emotion, and
Schreuder went on, "Please tell us, madam, how you were treated by your
captors."  then Katinka began to sob softly.  "I have tried to put
memory from my mind, for it was too painful to bear thinking upon.  But
I will never be able to forget.  I was treated like a caged animal,
cursed and spat upon, kept locked up in a grass hut."  Even van de
Velde looked amazed by the testimony, but realized that it would look
impressive in the report that went to Amsterdam.  After reading it
Katinka's father and the other members of the Seventeen would have no
other option but to approve even the harshest retribution visited on
the prisoners.

Sir Francis was aware of the turmoil of emotion that Hal was suffering
as he listened to the woman in whom he had placed so much trust pouring
out her lies.  He felt his son sag physically as she destroyed his
faith in her.

"Be of good heart, my boy," he said softly, from the corner of his
mouth, and felt Hal sit up straighter on the hard bench.

"My dear lady, we know that you have suffered a terrible ordeal at the
hands of these inhuman monsters."  By this time Schreuder was trembling
with anger to hear of her ordeal.  Katinka nodded and dabbed daintily
at her eyes with a lace handkerchief.  "Do you believe that animals
such, as these should be shown mercy, or should they be subjected to
the full force and majesty of the law?"

"Sweet Jesus knows that I am only a poor female, with a soft and loving
heart for all God's creation."  Katinka's voice broke pitifully.

"But I know that everybody in this assembly will agree with me that a
simple hanging is too good for these unspeakable wretches."  A murmur
of agreement spread slowly along the benches of spectators, then turned
into a deep growl.  Like a pit full of bears at feeding time, they
wanted blood.

"Burn them!"  a woman screamed.  "They are not fit to be called men."

Katinka lifted her head and, for the first time since entering the
hall, she looked directly at Hal, staring through her tears straight
into his eyes.

Hal lifted his chin and stared back.  He felt the love and awe he had
cherished for her withering, like a tender vine struck with the black
mould.  Sir Francis felt it too, and turned to look at him.  He saw the
ice in his son's eyes and could almost feel the heat of the flames in
his heart.

"She was never worthy of you," Sir Francis said softly.  "Now that you
have renounced her, you have taken another mighty leap into manhood."

Did his father really understand, Hal wondered.  Did he know what had
taken place?  Did he know of Hal's feelings?  If that were so, surely
he would long ago have rejected him.  He turned and looked into Sir
Francis's eyes, fearing to see them filled with scorn and revulsion.

But his father's gaze was mellow with understanding.  Hal realized that
he knew everything, and had probably known all along.  Far from
rejecting him, his father was offering him strength and redemption.

"I have committed adultery, and I have disgraced my Knighthood," Hal
whispered.  "I am no longer worthy to be called your son."

The manacle on his wrist clinked as Sir Francis laid his hand on the
boy's knee.  "IT was this harlot that led you astray.  The blame is not
yours.  You will always be my son and I shall always be proud of you,
"he whispered.

Van de Velde frowned down upon Sir Francis.  "Silence!  No more of your
muttering!  Is it another touch of the cane you are seeking?"  He
turned back to his wife.  "Mevrouw, you have been very brave.  I am
sure Mijnheer Hop will not wish to trouble you further."  He
transferred his gaze to the unfortunate clerk, who scrambled to his
feet.

"Mevrouw!"  The single word came out sharp and clear as a pistol shot,
surprising Hop as much as everyone -else in court.  "We thank you for
your testimony, and we have no questions."  There was only one catch,
on the word "testimony," and Hop sat down again triumphantly.

"Well said, Hop."  Van de Velde beamed at him in avuncular fashion, and
then turned a doting smile on his wife.  "You may return to your seat,
Mevrouw."  There was a lust-laden hush and every man in the hall let
his gaze drop as Katinka.  lifted her skirts just high enough to expose
her perfect little ankles clad in white silk and stepped down from the
platform.

As soon as she was seated, Schreuder said, "Now, Lord Cumbrae, may we
trouble you?"

In his full regalia the Buzzard mounted the platform, and as he took
the oath placed one hand on the flashing yellow cairngorm in the hilt
of his dagger.  Once Schreuder had established who and what he was, he
asked the Buzzard, "Do you know the pirate captain, Courtney?"

"Like a brother."  Cumbrae smiled down on Sir Francis.  "Once we were
close."

"Not any more?"  Schreuder asked sharply.

"Alas, it pains me but when my old friend began to change there was a
parting of our ways, although I still feel great affection for him."

"How did he change?"

"Well, he was always a braw laddie, was Franky.  We sailed in company
on many a day, through storm and the balmy days.  There was no man I
loved better, fair he was and honest, brave and generous to his
friends-" Cumbrae broke off and an expression of deep sorrow knitted
his brow.

"You speak in the past tense, my lord, what changed?"  "Twos Francis
who changed.  At first it was in little things he was cruel to his
captives and hard on his crew, flogging and hanging when it weren't
called for.  Then he changed towards his old friends, lying and
cheating them out of their share of the prize.  He became a hard man
and bitter."

"Thank you for this honesty," Schreuder said, "I can see it gives you
no pleasure to reveal these truths."

"No pleasure at all," Cumbrae confirmed with sadness.  "I hate to see
my old friend in chains, though God Almighty knows well he deserves no
mercy for his murderous behaviour towards honest Dutch seamen, and
innocent women."

"When did you last sail in company with Courtney?"

"It was not too long ago, in April of this year.  Our two ships were on
patrol together off Agulhas, waiting to waylay the Company galleons as
they rounded the Cape to call in here at Table Bay."  There was a
murmur of patriotic anger from the spectators, which van de Velde
ignored.

"Were you, then, also a corsair?"  Schreuder glared at him.  "Were you
also preying on Dutch shipping?"

"No, Colonel Schreuder, I was not a pirate or a corsair.

During the recent war between our two countries, I was a commissioned
privateer."

"Pray, my lord, tell us the difference between a pirate and a
privateer?"

"Tis simply that a privateer sails under Letters of Marque issued by
his sovereign in times of war, and so is a legitimate man-of-war.  A
pirate is a robber and an outlaw, carrying out his depredations without
any sanction, but that of the Lord of Darkness, Satan himself."

"I see.  So you had a Letter of Marque when you were raiding Dutch
shipping?"

"Yes, Colonel.  I did."

"Are you able to show this document to us?"

"Naturally!"  Cumbrae reached into his sleeve and drew out a roll of
parchment.  He leaned down and handed it to Schreuder.

"Thank you."  Schreuder unrolled it and held it up for all to see,
heavy with scarlet ribbons and wax seals.  He read aloud, "Know you by
these presents that our dearly beloved Angus Cochran, Earl of
"Cumbrae-" "Very well, Colonel," van de Velde interrupted testily.  "No
need to read us the whole thing.  Let me have it here, if you
please."

Schreuder bowed.  "As your excellency pleases."  He handed up the
document.  Van de Velde glanced at it then set it aside.  "Please go on
with your questions."

"My lord, did Courtney, the prisoner, also have one of these Letters of
Marque?"

"Well, now, if he did I was not aware of it."  The Buzzard grinned
openly at Sir Francis.

"Would you have expected to be aware of it, if the letter had, in fact,
existed?"

"Sir Francis and I were very close.  No secrets between US.  Yes, he
would have told me."

"He never discussed the letter with you?"  Schreuder looked annoyed,
like a pedagogue whose pupil has forgotten his lines.  "Never?"

"Oh, yes.  Now I do recall one occasion.  I asked him if he had a royal
commission."

"And what was his reply?"

"He said, "It ain't nothing but a bit of paper anyway.  don't trouble
me self with rubbish like that!"  "So you knew he had no letter and yet
you sailed in his company?"

Cumbrae shrugged.  "It was wartime, and it was none of my business."

"So you were off Cape Agulhas with the prisoner after the peace had
been signed, and you were still raiding Dutch shipping.  Can you
explain that to us?"

"It was simple, Colonel.  We did not know about peace, that is until I
fell in with a Portuguese caravel outward bound from Lisbon for Goa.  I
hailed her and her captain told me that peace had been signed."

"What was the name of this Portuguese ship?"  "She was the El
Dragdo."

"Was the prisoner Courtney present at this meeting with her?"

"No, this patrol station was north of mine.  He was over the horizon
and out of sight at the time."

Schreuder nodded.  "Where is this ship now?"

"I have here a copy of a news-sheet from London, only three months old.
It arrived three days ago on the Company ship lying in the bay at this
moment."  The Buzzard produced.  the sheet from his sleeve with a
magician's flourish.  "El Dragib was lost with all hands in a storm in
the Bay of Biscay while on her homeward voyage."

"So, it would seem, then, that we will never have any way of disproving
your meeting with her off Agulhas?"  "You'll just have to take my word
for it, Colonel."

Cumbrae stroked his great red beard.

"What did you do when you heard of the peace between England and
Holland?"

"As an honest man, there was only one thing I could do.  I broke off my
patrol, and went in search of the Lady Edwina."

"To warn her that the war was over?"  Schreuder suggested.

"Of course, and to tell Franky that my Letter of Marque was no longer
valid and that I was going home."

"Did you find Courtney?  Did you give him that message?"

"I found him within a few hours" sailing.  He was due north of my
position, about twenty leagues distant."

"What did he say when you told him the war was over?"  "He said, "It
may be over for you, but it ain't over for me.  Rain or shine, wind or
calm, war or peace, I am going to catch myself a fat cheese-head."
There was a ferocious clanking of chains and Big Daniel sprang to his
feet, dragging the diminutive figure of Ned Tyler off the bench with
him.  "There ain't a word of truth in it, you lying Scots bastard!  "he
thundered.

Van de Velde jumped up and wagged his finger at Daniel.  "Sit down, you
English animal, or I'll have you thrashed, and not just with the light
cane."

Sit Francis turned and reached back to grab Daniel's arm.  "Calm
yourself, Master Daniel," he said quietly.  "Don't give the Buzzard the
pleasure of watching us ache."  Big Daniel sank down, muttering
furiously to himself, but he would not disobey his captain.

"I am sure Governor van de Velde will take notice of the unruly and
desperate nature of these villains," Schreuder said, then turned his
attention back to the Buzzard.  "Did you ever see Courtney again before
today?"

"Yes, I did.  When I heard that, despite my warning, he had seized a
Company galleon, I went to find him and remonstrate with him.  To ask
him to free the ship and its cargo, and to release the hostages he was
holding to ransom."

"How did he respond to your pleas?"

"He turned his guns upon my ship, killing twelve of my seamen, and he
attacked me with fireships."  The Buzzard shook his head at the memory
of this perfidious treatment by an old friend and shipmate.  "That was
when I came here to Table Bay to inform Governor Kleinhans of the
galleon's whereabouts and to offer to lead an expedition to recapture
the ship and her cargo from the pirates."

"As a soldier myself, I can only commend you, my lord, on your
exemplary conduct.  I have no further questions, your excellency."
Schreuder bowed at van de Velde.

"Hop, do you have any questions?"  van de Velde demanded.

Hop looked confused, and glanced in appeal at Sir Francis.

"Your excellency," he stuttered, "might I speak to Sir Francis alone,
if only for a minute?"

For a while it seemed that van de Velde might refuse the request, but
he clasped his brow wearily.  "If you insist on holding up these
proceedings all the time, Hop, we will be here all week.  Very well,
man, you may talk to the prisoner, but do try to be quick."

Hop hurried across to Sir Francis and leaned close.  He asked a
question, and listened to the reply with an expression of dawning
horror on his pale face.  He nodded and kept nodding as Sir Francis
whispered in his ear, then went back to his table.

He stated down at his papers, breathing like a pearl diver about to
plunge out of his canoe into twenty fathoms of water.  Finally he
looked up and shouted at Cumbrae, "The first you knew of the end of the
war was when you tried to cut out the Swallow from under the fortress
here in Table Bay and were told about it by Colonel Schreuder."

It came out in a single rush, without check or pause, but it was a long
speech and Hop reeled back, gasping from the exertion.

"Have you lost your wits, Hop?"  van de Velde bellowed.  "Are you
accusing a nobleman of lying, you little turd?"

Hop drew another full breath, took his fragile courage in both hands,
and shouted again, "You held Captain Courtney's Letter of Marque in
your own two hands, then brandished it in his face while you burned it
to ashes."  Again it came out fluently, but Hop was spent.  He stood
there gulping for air.

Van de Velde was on his feet now.  "If you are looking for advancement
in the Company, Hop, you are going about it in a very strange way.  You
stand there hurling crazy accusations at a man of high rank.  Don't you
know your place, you worthless guttersnipe?  How dare you behave like
this?  Sit down before I have you taken out and flogged."  Hop dropped
into his seat as though he had received a musket ball in the head.
Breathing heavily, van de Velde bowed towards the Buzzard.  "I must
apologize, my lord.  Every person here knows that you were instrumental
in rescuing the hostages and saving the Standvastigheid from the
clutches of these villains.  Please ignore those insulting statements
and return to your seat.  We are grateful for your help in this
matter."

As Cumbrae crossed the floor, van de Velde suddenly became aware of the
writer scribbling away busily beside him.  "Don't write that down, you
fool.  It was not part of the court proceedings.  Here, let me see your
journal."  He snatched it from the clerk, and as he read his face
darkened.  He leaned across and took the quill from the writer's hand.
With a series of broad strokes he expurgated those parts of the text
that offended him.  Then he pushed the book back towards the writer.
"Use your intelligence.  Paper is an expensive commodity.  Don't waste
it by writing down unimportant rubbish."  Then he transferred his
attention to the two advocates.  "Gentlemen, I should like this matter
settled today.  I do not want to put the Company to unnecessary expense
by wasting any more time.  Colonel Schreuder, I think you have made a
thoroughly convincing presentation of the case against the pirates.  I
hope that you do not intend to gild the lily by calling any more
witnesses, do you?"

"As your excellency pleases.  I had intended calling ten more-, "Sweet
heavens!"  Van de Velde looked appalled.  "That will not be necessary
at all."

Schreuder bowed deeply and sat down.  Van de Velde lowered his head
like a bull about to charge and looked at the defence advocate.  "Hop!"
he growled.  "You have just seen how reasonable Colonel Schreuder has
been, and what an excellent example in the economy of words and time he
has set for this court.  What are your intentions?"

"May I call Sir Francis Courtney to give evidence?"  Hop stuttered.

"I strongly advise against it," van de Velde told him ominously.
"Certainly it will do your case little good."

"I want to -show that he did not know the war had ended and that he was
sailing under a commission from the English King," Hop ploughed on
obstinately, and van de Velde flushed crimson.

"Damn you, Hop.  Haven't you listened to a word I said?  We know all
about that line of defence, and I will take it into consideration when
I ponder my verdict.  You don't have to regurgitate those lies
again."

"I would like to have the prisoner say it, just for the court records."
Hop was close to tears, and his words limped painfully over his
crippled tongue.

"You are trying my patience, Hop.  Continue in this fashion, and you
will be on the- next ship back to Amsterdam.  I cannot have a disloyal
Company servant spreading dissension and sedition throughout the
colony."

Hop looked alarmed to hear himself described in such terms, and he
capitulated with alacrity.  "I apologize for delaying the business of
this honourable court.  I rest the case for the defence."

"Good man!  You have done a fine job of work, Hop.  I will make a
notation to that effect in my next despatch to the Seventeen."  Van de
Velde's face resumed its natural colour and he beamed jovially about
the hall.  "We will adjourn for the midday meal and for the court to
consider its verdict.  We will reconvene at four o'clock this
afternoon.  Take the prisoners back to the dungeons."

To avoid having to remove their shackles Manseer, the gaoler, bundled
Hal who was still chained to his father into the solitary cell near the
top of the spiral staircase, while the rest went below.

Hal and Sir Francis sat side by side on the stone shelf that served as
a bed.  As soon as they were alone Hal blurted out, "Father, I want to
explain to you about Katinka - I mean about the Governor's wife."

Sir Francis embraced him awkwardly, hampered by the chains.  "Unlikely
as it -now seems, I was young once.  You do not have to speak about
that harlot again.  She is not worthy of your consideration."

"I will never love another woman, not as long as I live," Hal said
bitterly.

"What you felt for that woman was not love, my son."  Sir Francis shook
his head.  "Your love is a precious currency.  Spend it only in the
market where you will not be cheated again."

At that there was a tapping on the iron bars of the next cell, and
Althuda called, "How goes the trial, Captain Courtney?  Have they given
you a good taste of Company justice?"

Sir Francis raised his voice to answer.  "It goes as you said it would,
Althuda.  It is obvious that you also have experienced it."

"The Governor is the only god in this little heaven called Good Hope.
Here, justice is that which pays a profit to the Dutch East India
Company or a bribe to its servants.  Has the judge pronounced your
guilt yet?"

"Not yet.  Van de Velde has gone to guzzle at his trough."  "You must
pray that he values labour for his walls more than revenge.  That way
you might still slip through Slow John's fingers.  Is there anything
you are hiding from them?  Anything they want from you to betray a
comrade, perhaps?"  Althuda asked.  "If there is not, then you might
still escape the little room under the armoury where Slow John does his
work."

"We are hiding nothing," Sir Francis said.  "Are we, Hal?"  "Nothing,"
Hal agreed loyally.

"But," Sir Francis went on, "van de Velde believes that we are."

"Then all I can say, my friend, is may Almighty Allah have pity on
you."

Those last hours together went too swiftly for Hal.  He and his father
spent the time talking softly together.  Every so often Sir Francis
broke off in a fit of coughing.  His eyes glittered feverishly in the
dim light, and when Hal touched his skin it was hot and clammy.  Sir
Francis spoke of High Weald like a man who knows he will never see his
home again.  When he described the river and the hill, Hal dimly
remembered them and the salmon coming upstream in the spring and the
stags roaring in the rut.  When he spoke-of his wife, Hal tried to
recall his mother's face, but saw only the woman in the miniature
painting he had left buried at Elephant Lagoon, and not the real live
person.

"These last years she has faded in my own memory," Sir Francis
admitted.  "But now her face comes back to me vividly, as young and
fresh and sweet as she ever was.  I wonder, is it because soon we will
be together again?  is she waiting for me?"

"I know she is, Father."  Hal gave him the reassurance he needed.  "But
I need you most and I know that we will be together many more years
before you go to my mother."

Sir Francis smiled regretfully, and looked up at the tiny window set
high in the stone wall.  "Last night I climbed up and looked through
the bars, and the red comet was still in the sign of Virgo.  It seemed
closer and fiercer, for its fiery tail had altogether obliterated my
star."

They heard the tramp of the guards approaching and the clash of keys in
the iron door.  Sir Francis turned to Hal.  "For the last time let me
kiss you, my son."

His father's lips were dry and hot with the fever in his blood.  The
contact was brief, then the door to the cell was thrown open.

"Don't keep the Governor and Slow John waiting now," said Sergeant
Manseer jovially.  "Out with the pair of you."  The atmosphere among
the spectators in the court room was like that at the cockpit just
before the spurred birds are released to tear into each other in a
cloud of flying feathers.  Sir Francis and Hal led in the long file of
prisoners and, before he could prevent himself, Hal looked quickly
towards the railed-off area at the far end of the hall.  Katinka sat in
her place in the centre of the front row with Zelda directly behind
her.  The maid leered viciously at Hal, but there was a soft contented
smile on Katinka's face, and her eyes sparkled with violet lights that
seemed to light the dim recesses of the room.

Hal looked away quickly, startled by the sudden hot hatred that had
replaced the adoration he had so recently felt for her.  How could it
have happened so quickly, he wondered, and knew that if he had a sword
in his hand he would not hesitate to drive the point between the peaks
of her soft white breasts.

As he sank into his seat he felt compelled to look up again into the
pack of spectators.  This time he went cold as he saw another pair of
eyes, pale and watchful as those of a leopard, fastened on his father's
face.

Slow John sat in the front row of the gallery.  He looked like a
preacher in his puritanical black suit, the wide, brimmed Hat set
squarely upon his head.

"Do not look at him," Sir Francis said softly, and Hal realized that
his father, too, was intensely aware of the scrutiny of those strange,
faded eyes.

As soon as the hall had settled into an expectant silence, van de Velde
appeared through the door of the audience chamber beyond.  When he
lowered himself into his seat his smile was expansive and his wig was
just the slightest bit awry.  He belched softly, for clearly he had
eaten well.  Then he looked down on the prisoners with such a benign
expression that Hal felt an unwarranted surge of hope for the
outcome.

"I have considered the evidence that has been laid before this court,"
the Governor began, without preamble, "and I want to say right at the
outset that I was impressed with the manner in which both the advocates
presented their cases.  Colonel Schreuder was a paradigm of
succinctness-" He stumbled over both of the longer words, then belched
again.  Hal fancied that he detected a whiff of cumin and garlic on the
warm air that reached him a few seconds later.

Next van de Velde turned a paternal eye on Jacobus Hop.  "The advocate
for the defence behaved admirably and made a good job of a hopeless
case, and I shall make a note to that effect in his Company file."  Hop
bobbed his head and coloured with gratification.

"However!"  He now looked squarely at the benches of the prisoners.
"While considering the evidence, I have given much thought to the
defence raised by Mijnheer Hop, namely that the pirates were operating
under a Letter of Marque issued by the King of England, and that when
they attacked the Company galleon, the Standvastigheid, they were
unaware of the cessation of hostilities between the belligerents in the
recent war.  I have been forced by irrefutable evidence to the contrary
to reject this line of defence in its entirety.  Accordingly, I find
all twenty-four of the accused persons guilty of piracy on the high
seas, of robbery and abduction and murder."

The seamen on the benches stared at him in pale silence.

"Is there anything you wish to say before I pass sentence upon you?"
van de Velde asked, and opened his silver snuff box.

Sir Francis spoke out, in a voice that rang the length and breadth of
the hall.  "We are prisoners of war.  You do not have the right to
chain us like slaves.  Neither do you have the right to try us nor to
pass sentence upon us."

Van de Velde took a pinch of snuff up each nostril and then sneezed
deliciously, spraying the court writer who sat beside him.  The clerk
closed the one eye nearest to the Governor but kept his quill flying
across the page in an effort to keep up with the proceedings.

"I believe that you and I have discussed this opinion before."  Van de
Velde nodded mockingly towards Sir Francis.  "I will now proceed to
sentence these pirates.  I will deal firstly with the four Negroes.
Let the following persons stand forth.  Aboli!  Matesi!  Jiri!
KimattiP The four were shackled in pairs, and now the guards prodded
them to their feet.  They shuffled forward and stood below the dais.
Van de Velde regarded them sternly.  "I have taken into account that
you are ignorant savages, and therefore cannot be expected to behave
like decent Christians.  Although your crimes reek to heaven and cry
for retribution, I am inclined to mercy.  I condemn you to lifelong
slavery.  You will be sold by the auctioneer of the Dutch East India
Company to the highest bidder at auction, and the monies received from
this sale will be paid into the Company treasury.  Take them away,
Sergeant!"

As they were led from the hall Aboli looked across at Sir Francis and
Hal.  His dark face was impassive behind the mask of tattoos, but his
eyes sent them the message of his heart.

"Next I will deal with the white pirates," van de Velde announced.

"Let the following prisoners stand forth."  He read from the list in
his hand.  "Henry Courtney, officer and mate.  Ned Tyler, boatswain.
Daniel Fisher, boatswain.  William Rogers, seaman .. ."  He read out
every name except that of Sir Francis Courtney.  When Sir Francis rose
beside his son, van de Velde stopped him.  "Not you!  You are the
captain and the instigator of this gang of rogues.  I have other plans
for you.  Have the armourer separate him from the other prisoner."  The
man hurried forward from the back of the court with the leather satchel
containing his tools, and worked swiftly to knock the shackle out of
the links that bound Hal to his father.

Sir Francis sat alone on the long bench as Hal left him and went
forward to take his place at the head of the row of prisoners below the
dais.  Van de Velde studied their faces, beginning at one end of the
line and moving his brooding gaze slowly along until he arrived at
Hal.

"A more murderous bunch of cutthroats I have never laid eyes upon.  No
honest man or woman is safe when creatures like you are at large.  You
are fit only for the gibbet."

As he stared at Hal, a sudden thought occurred to him, and he glanced
away towards the Buzzard, who sat beside the lovely Katinka at the side
of the hall.  "My lord!"  he called.  "May I trouble you for a word in
private?"  Leaving the prisoners standing, van de Velde heaved his bulk
onto his feet and waddled back through the doors in the audience
chamber behind him.  The Buzzard made an elaborate bow to Katinka and
followed the Governor.

As he entered the chamber he found van de Velde selecting a morsel from
the silver tray on the polished yellow-wood table.  He turned to the
Buzzard, his mouth already filled.  "A sudden thought occurred to me.
If I am to send Francis Courtney to the executioner for questioning as
to the whereabouts of the missing cargo, should not his son go also?
Surely Courtney would have told his son or had him with him when he
secreted the treasure.  What do you think, my Lord?"

The Buzzard looked grave and tugged at his beard as he pretended to
consider the question.  He had wondered how long it would take this
great hog to come round to this way of thinking, and he had long ago
prepared his answer.  He knew he could rely on the fact that Sir
Francis Courtney would never reveal the whereabouts of his wealth, not
even to the most cunning and persistent tormentor.  He was just too
stubborn and pigheaded unless and here was the one possible case in
which he might capitulate if it were to save his only son.  "Your
excellency, I think you need have no fear that any living person knows
where the treasure is, apart from the pirate himself.  He is much too
avaricious and suspicious to trust another human being."

Van de Velde looked dubious and helped himself to another curried
samosa from the tray.  While he munched, the Buzzard mulled over his
best line of argument, should van de Velde choose to debate it
further.

There was no question in the Buzzard's mind but that Hal Courtney knew
where the treasure from the Standvastigheid lay.  What was more, he
almost certainly knew where the other hoard from the Heerlycke Nacht
was hidden.  Unlike his father, the youngster would be unable to
withstand the questioning by Slow John and, even if he proved tougher
than the Buzzard believed, his father would certainly break down when
he saw his son on the rack.  One way or the other the two would lead
the Dutch to the hoard, and that was the last thing on this earth that
the Buzzard wanted to happen.

His grave expression almost cracked into a grin as he realized the
irony of his being forced to save Henry Courtney from the attentions of
Slow John.  But if he wanted the treasure for himself, he must make
sure that neither father nor son led the cheese-heads to it first.  The
best place for Sir Francis was the gallows, and the best place for his
brat was the dungeon under the castle walls.

This time he could not prevent the grin reaching his lips as he thought
that while Slow John was still cooling his branding irons in Sir
Francis's blood, the Gull would be flying back to Elephant Lagoon to
winkle out those sacks of guilders and those bars of gold from whatever
nook or cranny Sir Francis had tucked them into.

He turned the grin now on van de Velde.  "No, your excellency, I give
you my assurance that Francis Courtney is the only man alive who knows
where it is.  He may look hard and talk bravely, but Franky will roll
over and spread his thighs like a whore offered a gold guinea just as
soon as Slow John gets to work on him.  My advice is that you send
Henry Courtney to work on the castle, and rely on his father to lead
you to the booty."

"Governer Van de Velde nodded.  "That's what I thought myself.  I just
wanted you to confirm what I already knew."  He popped one last samosa
into his mouth and spoke around it.  "Let's go back and get the
business finished, then."

The prisoners were still waiting in their chains below the dais, like
oxen in the traces, as van de Velde settled himself into his chair
again.

"The gibbet and the gallows, these "are your natural homes, but they
are too good for you.  I sentence every last man of you to a lifetime
of labour in the service of the Dutch East India Company, which you
conspired to cheat and rob, and whose servants you abducted and
maltreated.  Do not think this is kindness on my part, or weakness.

There will come a time when you will weep to the Almighty and beg him
for the easy death that I denied you this day.  Take them away and put
them to work immediately.  The sight of them offends my eyes, and those
of all honest men."

As they were herded from the hall, Katinka hissed with frustration and
made a gesture of annoyance.  Cumbrae leaned closer to her and asked,
What is it that troubles you, madam?"

"I fear my husband has made a mistake.  He should have sent them to the
pyre on the parade."  Now she would be denied the thrill of watching
Slow John work on the beautiful brat, and listening to his screams.  It
would have been a deeply satisfying conclusion to the affair.  Her
husband had promised it to her, and he had cheated her of the pleasure.
She would make him suffer for that, she decided.

"Ah, madam, revenge is best savoured like a pipe of good Virginia
tobacco.  Not gobbled up in a rush.  Any time in the future that the
fancy takes you, you need only look up at the castle walls and there
they will be, being worked slowly to death."

Hal passed close by where Sir Francis sat on the long bench.  His
father looked forlorn and sick, with his hair and beard in lank ropes
and black shadows beneath his eyes, in dreadful contrast with his pale
skin.  Hal could not bear it and suddenly he cried, "Father!"  and
would have run to him, but Sergeant Manseer had anticipated him and
stepped in front of him with the long cane in his right hand.  Hal
backed away.

His father did not look up, and Hal realized that he had taken his
farewell and had moved on into the far territory where only Slow John
would be able now to reach him.

When the file of convicts had left the hall and the doors had closed
behind them, a hush fell and every eye rested on the lonely figure on
the bench.

"Francis Courtney," van de Velde said loudly.  "Stand forth!"

Sir Francis threw back his head, flicking the greying hair out of his
eyes.  He shrugged off the guards" hands and rose unaided to his feet.
He held his head high as he marched to the dais, and his torn shirt
flapped around his naked back.  The cane stripes had begun to dry into
crusted black scabs.

"Francis Courtney, it is not by chance, I am certain, that you bear the
same Christian name as that most notorious of all pirates, the rogue
Francis Drake."

"I have the honour to be named for the famous seafarer," said Sir
Francis softly.

"Then I have the even greater honour of passing sentence upon you.

I sentence you to death."  Van de Velde waited for Sir Francis to show
some emotion, but he stared back without expression.  At last the
Governor was forced to continue.  "I repeat, your sentence is death,
but the manner of your death will be of your own choosing."  Abruptly
and unexpectedly, he let out a mellow guffaw.  "There are not many
rogues of your calibre that are treated with such beneficence and
condescension."

"With your permission, I shall withhold any expression of gratitude
until I hear the rest of your proposal," Sir Francis murmured, and van
de Velde stopped laughing.

"Not all the cargo from the Standvastigheid has been recovered.  By far
the most valuable portion is still missing, and there is no doubt in my
mind that you were able to secrete this before you were captured by the
troops of the honourable Company.  Are you prepared to reveal the
hiding place of the missing cargo to the officers of the Company?  In
that case, your execution will be by a swift and clean beheading."

"I have nothing to tell you," said Sir Francis, in a disinterested
tone.

"Then, I fear, you will be asked the same question under extreme
compulsion by the state executioner."  Van de Velde smacked his lips
softly, as though the words tasted good on his tongue.  "Should you
answer fully and without reservation the headsman's axe will put an end
to your suffering.  Should you remain obstinate, the questioning will
continue.  At all times the choice will remain yours."

"Your excellency is a paragon of mercy," Sir Francis bowed, "but I
cannot answer the question, for I know nothing of the cargo of which
you speak."

"Then Almighty God have mercy on your soul," said van de Velde, and
turned to Sergeant Manseer.  "Take the prisoner away and place him in
the charge of the state executioner."

Hal balanced high on the scaffolding on the unfinished wall of the
eastern bastion of the castle.  This was only the second day of the
labours that were to last the rest of his natural life, and already the
palms of his hands and both his shoulders were rubbed raw by the ropes
and the rough, undressed stone blocks.  One of his fingertips was
crushed and the nail was the colour of a purple grape.  Each masonry
block weighed a ton or more and had to be manhandled up the rickety
scaffolding of bamboo poles and planks.

In the gang of convicts working with him were Big Daniel and Ned Tyler,
neither of whom was fully recovered from his wounds.  Their injuries
were plain to see for all were dressed only in petticoats of ragged
canvas.

The musket ball had left a deep, dark purple crater in Daniel's chest
and a lion's claw across his back, where Hal had cut him.  The scabs
over these wounds had burst open with his exertions and were weeping
watery blood-tinged lymph.

The sword wound crawled like a raw red vine around Ned's thigh, and he
limped heavily as he moved along the scaffold.  After their privations
in the slave deck of the Gull they were all honed clean of the last
ounce of fat.  They were lean as hunting dogs, and stringy muscle and
bone stood out clearly beneath their sun reddened skins.

Though the sun still shone brightly, the winter wind whistled in from
the nor-"west and seemed to abrade their bodies like ground glass.  In
unison they hauled at the tail of the heavy manila rope and the sheaves
screeched in their blocks as the great yellow lump of stone lifted from
the truck of the wagon far below and began its perilous ascent up the
high structure.

The previous day a scaffolding on the south bastion had collapsed under
the weight of the stones and had hurled three of the convicts working
upon it to their death on the cobbles far below.  Hugo Barnard, the
overseer, had muttered as he stood over their crushed corpses, "Three
birds with one stone.  I'll have the next careless bastard that kills
himself thrashed within an inch of his life," and burst out laughing at
his own gallows" humour.

Daniel took a turn of the rope end around his good shoulder and
anchored it as the rest of the team reached out, seized the swinging
block and hauled it onto the trestle.  Between them they manhandled it
into the gap at the top of the wall, with the Dutch stonemason in his
leather apron shouting instructions at them.

They stood back panting after it had dropped into place, every muscle
in their bodies aching and trembling from the effort, but there was no
time to rest.  From the courtyard below Hugo Barnard was already
yelling, "Get that cradle down here.  Swiftly now or I'll come up and
give you a touch of the persuader," and he flicked out the knotted
leather thongs of his whip.

Daniel peered over the edge of the scaffold.  Suddenly he stiffened and
glanced over his shoulder at Hal.  "There go Aboli and the other
lads."

Hal stepped up beside him and looked down.  From the doorway to the
dungeon a small procession emerged.  The four black seamen were led out
into the wintry sunshine.  Once again, they were wearing light chains.
"Look at those lucky bastards," Ned Tyler muttered.  They had not been
included in the labour teams, but had stayed in the dungeon, resting
and being fed an extra meal each day to fatten them up while they
waited to go on the auction block.  This morning Manseer had ordered
the four men to strip naked.  Then Doctor Soar, the Company surgeon,
had come down to the cell and examined them, probing and peering into
their ears and mouths to satisfy himself as to the state of their
health.  When the surgeon had left, Manseer ordered them to anoint
themselves all over from a stone jar of oil.  Now their skins shone in
the sunlight like polished ebony.  Though they were still lean and
finely drawn from their stay aboard the Gull, the coating of oil made
them appear sleek prime specimens of humanity.  Now they were being led
out through the gates of the castle onto the open Parade where already
a crowd had gathered.

Before he passed through the gates Aboli raised his great round head
and looked up at Hal on the scaffold, high above.  For one moment their
eyes met.  There was no need for either to shout a message, chancing a
cut of the cane from their keepers, and Aboli strode on without looking
back.

Courtney Series

Cry Wolf

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Written by Administrator

Posted on 15.04.11

Cry Wolf [047-011-4.8]

By: Wilbur Smith

Category: fiction action adventure

Synopsis:

"Run," he shouted.  "Keep running."  And he turned back to
face the crippled animal as it launched itself from the ledge into the
bed of the river.  It was only then that Jake realized that he still
carried a full bottle of Scrubbs Ammonia in his hand.  The lion came
bounding swiftly through the shallow stagnant pool towards him. Despite
the wounds, it followed with lithe and sinuous menace.  it was so close
that he could see each stiff white whisker in the curled upper lip and
hear the rattle of air in its throat.  He let it come on, for to turn
and run was suicide.  At the last moment he reared back like a baseball
pitcher and hurled the bottle.

Jake Barton is an American engineer, Gareth Swalles (a stylish
Englishman with a nose for a quick deal.  Both have always moved from
one escapade to another.  Now, as Mussolini prepares to annihilate the
people of Ethiopia, the two adventurers come up against Vicky
Camberwell, the beautiful but fiery reporter bent on espousing their
cause.  Striking a bargain with a beleaguered Ethiopian prince, the
trio dares to run gauntlet guns and a batch of run-down armoured cars
in a final, desperate gamble for freedom..


To Jake Barton, machinery was always feminine with all the female's
fascination, wiles and bitchery.

So when he first saw them standing in a row beneath the spreading dark
green foliage of the mango trees, they became for him the iron
ladies.

There were five of them, standing aloof from the other heaps of
worn-out and redundant equipment that His Majesty's Government was
offering for sale.  Although it was June and the cooler season between
the monsoons, yet the heat on this cloudless morning in Dares Salaam
was mounting like a force-fed furnace and Jake went thankfully into the
shade of the mangoes to stand closer to the ladies and begin his
examination.

He glanced around the enclosed yard, and noticed that he seemed to be
the only one interested in the five vehicles.

The motley crowd of potential buyers was picking over the heaps of
broken shovels and Picks, the rows of battered wheelbarrows and the
other mounds of unidentifiable rubbish.

He turned his attention back to the ladies, as he slipped off the light
tropical moleskin jacket he wore and hung it on the branch of a mango
tree.

The ladies were aristocrats fallen on hard times, their hard but rakish
lines were dulled by the faded and scratched paintwork and the
cancerous blotches of rust that showed through.  The foxy-faced fruit
bats that hung inverted in the mango branches above them had splattered
them with their dung, and oil and grease had oozed from their elderly
joints and caked with dust in unsightly black streaks and blobs.

Jake knew their lineage and their history and as he laid aside the
small carpet bag that held his tools, he reviewed it swiftly.  Five
fine pieces of craftsmanship lying rotting away on the fever coast of

Tanganyika.  The bodies and chassis had been built by Schreiner the
stately high cupola in which the open mounting for the Maxim machine
gun now glared like an empty eye-socket, the square sloping platform of
the engine housing, with its heavy armour plate and the neat rows of
rivets and the steel shutters that could be closed to protect the
radiator against incoming enemy fire.

They stood tall on the metal bossed wheels with their solid rubber
tyres, and Jake felt a sneaking regret that he would be the one to tear
their engines out of them and toss aside the worn-out but gallant old
bodies.

They did not deserve such cavalier treatment, these fighting iron
ladies who in their youth had chased the wily German commander von

Lettow-Vorbeck across the wide plains and over the fierce hills of
East

Africa.  The thorns of the wilderness had deeply scarred the paintwork
of the five armoured cars and there were places where rifle fire had
glanced off their armour, leaving the distinctive dimple in the
steel.

Those were their grandest days, streaming into battle with their
cavalry pennants flying, dust billowing behind them, bounding and
crashing through the don gas and ant bear holes, their machine guns
blazing and the terrified German askaris scattering before them.

After that, the original engines had been replaced by the beautiful new
6 litre Bentleys, and they had begun the long decline of police patrol
work on the border, chasing the occasional cattle raider and slowly
being pounded by a succession of brutal drivers into the condition
which had at last brought them here to the Government sale yards in
this fiery May of the year of our Lord 1935.  But Jake knew that even
the savage abuse to which they had been subjected could not have
destroyed the engines completely and that was what interested him.

He rolled up his sleeves like a surgeon about to begin his
examination.

"Ready or not, girls, "he muttered, "here comes old Jake."  He was a
tall man with a big bony frame that was cramped in the confined area of
the armoured car's body, but he worked with a quiet concentration so
close to rapture that the discomfort went unnoticed.  Jake's wide
friendly mouth was pursed in a whistle that went on endlessly, the
opening bars of "Tiger Rag" repeated over and over again, and his eyes
were screwed up against the gloom of the interior.

He worked swiftly, checking the throttle and ignition settings of the
controls, tracing out the fuel lines from the rear-mounted fuel tank,
finding the cocks under the driver's seat and grunting with
satisfaction.  He scrambled out of the turret and dropped down the high
side of the vehicle, pausing to wipe away with his forearm the thin
trickle of sweat that broke from his thick curly black hair and ran
down his cheek, then he hurried forward and knocked the clamps open on
the side flaps of the armoured engine-cover.

"Oh sweet, sweet!"  he whispered, as he saw the fine outlines of the
old Bentley engine block beneath the layer of thick dust and greasy
filth.

His hands with the big square palms and thick spatulate fingers went
out to touch it with what was almost a caress.

"The bastards have beaten you up, darling," he whispered.

"But we will have you singing again as lovely as ever, that's a
promise."  He pulled the dipstick from the engine sump and took a drop
of oil between his fingers.

"Shit!"  he grunted with disgust, as he felt the grittiness, and he
thrust the stick back into its slot.  He pulled the plugs and, with the
promise of a shilling, had a loitering African swing the crank for him
while he felt the compression against the palm of his hand.

Swiftly he moved along the line of armoured cars, checking,

probing and testing, and when he reached the last of them he knew he
could have three of them running again for certain and four maybe.

One was shot beyond hope.  There was a crack in the engine block
through which he could have ridden a horse, and the pistons had seized
so solid in their pots that not even the combined muscle upon the crank
handle of Jake and his helper could move them.

Two of them had the entire carburettor assemblies missing, but he could
cannibalize from the wreck.  That left him short of one carburettor and
he felt only gloom at his chances of finding another in Dares Salaam.

Three, then, he could reckon on with certainty.  At one hundred and ten
pounds apiece, that was 030.  Less an estimated outlay of one hundred,
it gave him a clear profit of two hundred and thirty pounds for surely
he would not have to bid more than twenty pounds each for these
wrecks.

Jake felt a warm spreading glow of satisfaction as he tossed his

African helper the promised shilling.  Two hundred and thirty pounds
was a great deal of money in these lean and hungry times.

A quick glance at the fob-watch he hauled from his back pocket showed
him there was still over two hours before the advertised time of the
commencement of the sale.  He was impatient to begin work on those

Bentleys not only for the money.  For Jake it would be a labour of
love.

The one in the centre of the line seemed the best bet for quick
results.  He placed his carpet bag on the armoured wing of the mudguard
and selected a Yth-inch spanner.

Immediately he was totally absorbed.

After half an hour he pulled his head out of the engine, wiped his
hands on a handful of cotton waste and hurried around to the front of
the car.

The big muscles in his right arm bunched and rippled as he swung the
crank handle, spinning the heavy engine easily with a steady whirring
rhythm.  After a minute of this, he released the handle and wiped off
his sweat with the cotton waste that left grease marks down his cheeks.
He was breathing quickly but lightly.

"I knew you for a temperamental bitch the moment I laid eyes on you,"
he muttered.  "But you are going to do it my way, darling.  You really
are."  Once more his head and shoulders disappeared under the engine
cowling and there was the clink of the spanner against metal and the
monotonous repetition of "Tiger Rag" in a low off-key whistle for
another ten minutes, then again Jake went to the crank handle.

"You are going to do it my way, baby and what's more you're going to
like it."  He spun the handle and the engine kicked viciously,

back-fired like a rifle shot, and the crank handle snapped out of

Jake's hand with enough force to have taken his thumb off if he had
been holding it with an opposed grip.

"Jesus," whispered Jake, "a real little hell catV He scrambled up into
the turret and reached down to the controls and reset the ignition.

At the next swing of the crank handle she bucked and fired, caught and
surged, then fell back into a steady beat, quivering slightly on her
rigid suspension, but come alive.

Jake stepped back, sweating, flushed, but with his dark green eyes
shining with delight.

"Oh you beauty, "he said.  "You bloody little beauty."

"Bravo,"

said a voice behind him, and Jake started and turned quickly.  He had
forgotten that he was not the only person left on earth, in his
complete absorption with the machine, and now he felt embarrassed, as
though he had been observed in some intimate and private bodily
function.

He glowered at the figure that was leaning elegantly against the hole
of the mango tree.

"Jolly good show," said the stranger, and the voice was sufficient to
stir the hair upon the nape of Jake's neck.  It was one of those pricey
Limey accents.

The man was dressed in a cream suit of expensive tropical linen and
two-tone shoes of white and brown.  On his head he wore a white straw
hat with a wide brim that cast a shadow over his face.  But Jake could
see the man had a friendly smile and an easy engaging manner.  He was
handsome in a conventional manner, with noble and regular features,

a face that had flustered many a female's emotions and that fitted well
with the voice.  He would he a ranking government official probably, or
an officer in one of the regular regiments stationed in Dares Salaam.

Upper class establishment, even to the necktie with its narrow diagonal
stripes by which the British advertised at which seat of learning they
had obtained their education and their place in the social order.

"It didn't take you long to get her going."  The man lolled gracefully
against the mango, his ankles crossed and one hand thrust into his coat
pocket.  He smiled again, and this time Jake saw the mockery and
challenge in the eyes more clearly.  He had judged him wrongly.  This
was not one of those cardboard men.  They were pirate eyes, mocking and
wolfish, dangerous as the glint of a knife in the shadows.

"I have no doubt the others are in as good a state of repair."  It was
an enquiry, not a statement.

"Well, you're wrong, friend.  "Jake felt a pang of dismay.  It was
absurd that this fancy lad could have a real interest in the five
vehicles but if he did, then Jake had just given him a generous
demonstration of their value.  "This is the only one that will run, and
even her guts are blown.  Listen to her knock.  Sounds like a mad
carpenter."  He reached under the cowling and earthed the magneto.

In the sudden silence as the engine died, he said loudly, "Junk!"

and spat on the ground near the front wheel but not on it.  He couldn't
bring himself to do that.  Then he gathered his tools, flung his jacket
over his shoulder, hefted the carpet bag and, without another glance at
the Englishman, ambled off towards the gates of the works yard.

"You not bidding then, old chap?"  The stranger had left his post at
the mango and fallen into step beside him.

"God, no."  Jake tried to fill his voice with disdain.  "Are you?"

"Now what would I do with five broken-down armoured cars?"  The man
laughed silently, and then went on, "Yankee, are you?  Texas, what?"

"You've been reading my mail."  Engineer?"  :1 try, I try."

"Buy you a drink?"

"Give me the money.  instead.  I've got a train to catch."  The elegant
stranger laughed again, a light friendly laugh.

"God speed, then, old chap," he said, and Jake hurried out through the
gates into the dusty heat-dazed streets of noonday Dares Salaam and
walked away without a backward glance, trying to convey with his
determined stride and the set of his shoulders that his departure was
final.

Jake found a canteen around the first corner and within five minutes"
walk of the works yard, where he went into hiding.  The Tusker beer he
ordered was blood warm, but he drank it while he worried.  The

English, man gave him a very queasy feeling, his interest was too
bright to be mere curiosity.  On the other hand, however, Jake might
have to go over the twenty pounds bid that he had calculated and he
took from the inside pocket of his jacket the worn pigskin wallet that
contained his entire worldly wealth and, prudently using the table top
as a screen, he counted the wad of notes.

Five hundred and seventeen pounds in Bank of England notes, three
hundred and twenty-seven dollars in United States currency, and four
hundred and ninety East African shillings was not a great fortune with
which to take on the likes of the elegant Limey.  However, Jake drained
his warm beer, set his jaw and inspected his watch once more.  It gave
him five minutes to noon.

Major Gareth Swales was mildly dismayed, but not at all surprised to
see the big American entering the works yard gates once more in a
manner which was obviously intended to be unobtrusive but reminded him
of Jack Dempsey sidling furtively into an old ladies" tea party.

Gareth Swales sat in the shade of the mangoes upon an upturned
wheelbarrow, over which he had spread a silk handkerchief to protect
the pristine linen of his suit.  He had set aside his straw hat, and
his hair was meticulously trimmed and combed, shining softly in that
rare colour between golden blond and red, and there was just a sparkle
of silver in the wings at his temples.  His mustache was the same
colour and carefully moulded to the curve of his upper lip.  His face
was deeply tanned by the tropical sun to a dark chestnut brown, so that
the contrasting blue of his eyes was startlingly pale and
penetrating,

as he watched Jake Barton cross the yard to join the gathering of
buyers under the mango trees.  He sighed with resignation and returned
his attention to the folded envelope on which he was making his
financial calculations.

He really was finely drawn out, the previous eighteen months had been
very unkind to him.  The cargo that had been seized in the Liao

River by the Japanese gunboat when he was only hours away from
delivering it to the Chinese commander at Mukden and receiving payment
for it had wiped away the accumulated capital of ten years.  It had
taken all his ingenuity and a deal of financial agility to assemble the
package that was stored at this moment in No.

4 warehouse down at the main docks of Dares Salaam port.

His buyers would be arriving to take delivery in twelve days and the
five armoured cars would have rounded out the package beautifully.

Armour, by God, he could fix his own price.  Only aircraft would have
been more desirable from his client's point of view.

Gareth had first seen them that morning in their neglected and decrepit
state of repair, he had discounted them completely, and was on the
point of turning away when he had noticed the long muscular pair of
legs protruding from the engine of one of the vehicles and heard the
barely recognizable strains of "Tiger Rag'.

Now he knew that one of them at least was a runner.  A few gallons of
paint, and a new Vickers machine gun set in the mountings, and the five
machines would look magnificent.  Gareth would give one of his justly
famous sales routines.  He would start the one good engine and fire the
machine gun by God, the jolly old prince would pull out his purse and
start spilling sovereigns all over the scenery.

There was only the damned Yankee to worry about, it might cost him a
few bob more than he had reckoned to edge him out, but Gareth was not
too worried.  The man looked as though he would have difficulty raising
the price of a beer.

Gareth flicked at his sleeve where a speck of dust might have settled;
he placed the panama back on his golden head, adjusted the wide brim
carefully and removed the long slim cheroot from his lips to inspect
the ash, before he rose and sauntered across to the group.

The auctioneer was an elfin Sikh in a black silk suit with his beard
twisted up under his chin, and a large dazzling white turban wrapped
about his head.

He was perched like a little black bird on the turret of the nearest
armoured car, and his voice was plaintive as he pleaded with the
audience that stared up at him stolidly with expressionless faces and
glazed eyes.

"Come, gentle mens let me be hearing some mellifluous voice cry out
"ten pounds".  Do I hear "ten pounds each" for these magnificent
conveyances?"  He cocked his head and listened to the hot noon breeze
in the top branches of the mango.  Nobody moved, nobody spoke.

"Five pounds, please?  Will some wise gentle mens tell me five pounds?
Two pounds ten gentle mens for a mere fifty shillings these royal
machines, these fine, these beautiful-" He broke off, and lowered his
gaze, placed a delicate chocolate brown hand over his troubled brow. "A
price, gentle mens  Please, start me with a price."

"One pound!"  a voice called in the lilting accents of the Texan
ranges.  For a moment the Sikh did not move, then raised his head with
dramatic slowness and stared at Jake who towered above the crowd around
him.

"A pound?"  the Sikh whispered huskily.  "Twenty shillings each for
these fine, these beautiful-" he broke off and shook his head
sorrowfully.  Then abruptly his manner changed and became brisk and
businesslike.  "One pound, I am bid.

40, I Do I hear two, two pounds?  No advance on one pound?

Going for the first time at one pound!"  Gareth Swales drifted forward,
and the crowd opened miraculously, drawing aside respectfully.

"Two pounds."  He spoke softly, but his voice carried clearly in the
hush.  Jake's long angular frame stiffened, and a dark wine-coloured
flush spread slowly up the back of his neck.  Slowly, his head
swivelled and he stared across at the Englishman who had now reached
the front row.

Gareth smiled brilliantly and tipped the brim of his panama to
acknowledge Jake's glare.  The Sikh's commercial instinct instantly
sensed the rivalry between them and his mood brightened.

"I have two--" he chirruped.

Five," snapped Jake.

"Ten," murmured Gareth, and Jake felt a hot uncontrollable anger come
seething up from his guts.  He knew the feeling so well, and he tried
to control it, but it was no use.

It came up in a savage red tide to swamp his reason.

The crowd stirred with delight, and all their heads swung in unison
towards the tall American.

"Fifteen," said jake, "and every head swung back towards the slim

Englishman.

Gareth inclined his head gracefully.

"Twenty," piped the Sikh delightedly.  "I have twenty."

"And five."  Dimly through the mists of his anger, Jake knew that there
was no way that he would let the Limey have these ladies.  If he
couldn't buy them, he would burn them.

The Sikh sparkled at Gareth with gazelle eyes.

"Thirty, sir?"  he asked, and Gareth grinned easily and waved his
cheroot.  He was experiencing a rising sense of alarm already they were
far past what he had calculated was the Yank's limit.

"And five more."  Jake's voice was gravelly with the strength of his
outrage.  They were his, even if he had to pay out every shilling in
his wallet, they had to be his.

Forty."  Gareth Swales's smile was slightly strained now.

He was fast approaching his own limit.  The terms of the sale were cash
or bank-guaranteed cheque.  He had long ago milked every source of cash
that was available to him, and any bank manager who guaranteed a

Gareth Swales cheque was destined for a swift change of employment.

"Forty-five."  Jake's voice was hard and uncompromising; he was fast
approaching the figure where he would be working for nothing but the
satisfaction of blocking out the Limey.

"Fifty."

"And five."

"Sixty."

"And another five."  That was break-even price for Jake after this he
was tossing away bright shining shillings.

"Seventy," drawled Gareth Swales, and that

411 at was his limit.

With regret he discarded all hopes of an easy acquisition of the cars.
Three hundred and fifty pounds represented his entire liquid reserves
he could bid no further.  All right, the easy way had not worked out.
There were a dozen other ways, and by one of them Gareth

Swales was going to have them.  By God, the prince might go as high as
a thousand each and he was not going to pass by that sort of profit for
lack of a few lousy hundred quid.

"Seventy-five," said Jake, and the crowd murmured and every eye flew to
Major Gareth Swales.

"Ah, kind gentle mens do you speak of eighty?"  enquired the Sikh
eagerly.  His commission was five per cent.

Graciously, but regretfully, Gareth shook his head.

"No, my dear chap.  It was a mere whim of mine."  He smiled across at
Jake.  "May they give you much joy," he said, and drifted away towards
the gates.  There was clearly nothing to be gained in approaching the
American now.

The man was in a towering rage and Gareth had judged him as the type
who habitually gave expression to this emotion by swinging with his
fists.  Long ago, Gareth Swales had reached the conclusion that only
fools fight, and wise men supply them with the means to do so at a
profit, naturally.

It was three days before Jake Barton saw the Englishman again and
during that time he had towed the five iron ladies to the outskirts of
the town where he had set up his camp on the banks of a small stream
among a stand of African mahogany trees.

With a block and tackle slung from the branch of a mahogany, he had
lifted out the engines and worked on them far into each night by the
smoky light of a hurricane lamp.

Coaxing and sweet-talking the machines, changing and juggling faulty
and worn parts, hand-forging others on the charcoal brazier,

whistling to himself endlessly, swearing and sweating and scheming, he
had three of the Bentleys running by the afternoon of the third day.

Set up on improvised timber blocks, they had regained something of
their former gleam and glory beneath his loving hands.

Gareth Swales arrived at Jake's camp in the somnolent heat of the third
afternoon.  He arrived in a ricksha pulled by a half-naked and sweating
black man and he lolled with the grace of a resting leopard on the
padded seat, looking cool in beautifully cut and snowy crisp linen.

Jake straightened up from the engine which he was tuning.  He was naked
to the waist and his arms were greased black to the elbows.

Sweat gleamed on his shoulders and chest, as though he had been
oiled.

"Don't even bother to stop," Jake said softly.  "Just keep straight on
down the road, friend."  Gareth grinned at him engagingly and from the
seat beside him he lifted a large silver champagne bucket,

frosted with dew, and tinkling with ice.  Over the edge of the bucket
showed the necks of a dozen bottles of Tusker beer.

"Peace offering, old chap," said Gareth, and Jake's throat contracted
so violently with thirst that he couldn't speak for a moment.

"A free gift with no strings attached, what?"  Even in this cloying
humid heat, Jake Barton had been so completely absorbed by his task
that he had taken little liquid in three days, and none of it was pale
golden, bubbling and iced.  His eyes began to water with the strength
of his desire.

Gareth dismounted from the ricksha and came forward with the champagne
bucket under one arm.

"Swales," he said.  "Major Gareth Swales," and held out his hand.

"Barton.  Jake."  Jake took the hand, but his eyes were still fixed on
the bucket.

Twenty minutes later, Jake sat waist-deep in a steaming galvanized iron
bath, set out alfresco under the mahogany trees.  The bottle of

Tusker stood close at hand and he whistled happily as he worked up a
foaming lather in his armpits and across the dark hairy plain of his
chest.

"Trouble was, we got off on the wrong foot," explained Gareth, and
sipped at the neck of a Tusker bottle.  He made it seem he was taking

Dam Nrignon from a crystal flute.  He was lying back in Jake's single
canvas camp chair under the shade flap of the old sun-faded tent.

"Friend, you nearly got a wrong foot right up your backside."  But

Jake's threat was without fire, marinated in Tusker.

I understand how you felt," said Gareth.  "But then "I surely
understood you did tell me you weren't bidding.  If only you had told
me the truth, we could have worked out an arrangement."  Jake reached
out with a soap-frothed hand and lifted the Tusker bottle to his lips.
He swallowed twice, sighed and belched softly.

"Bless you," said Gareth, and then went on.  "As soon as I "Ble
realized that you were bidding seriously, I backed out.  I knew that
you and I could make a mutually beneficial deal later.  And so here I

am now, drinking beer with you and talking a deal."

"You are talking I'm just listening, "Jake pointed out.

"Rite so."  Gareth took out his cheroot case, carefully selected one
and leaned forward to place it tenderly between

Jake's willing lips.  He struck a match off the sole of his boot and
cupped the match for Jake.

"It seems clear to me that you have a buyer for the cars, right?"

"I'm still listening."  Jake exhaled a long feather of cheroot smoke
with evident pleasure.

"You must have a price already set, and I am prepared to better that
price."  Jake took the cheroot out of his mouth and for the first time
regarded Gareth levelly.

"You want all five cars at that price in their present condition?"

"Right," said Gareth.

What if I tell you that only three are runners two are "shot all to
hell."

"That wouldn't affect my offer."  Jake reached out and drained the
Tusker bottle.  Gareth opened another for him and placed it in his
hand.

Swiftly Jake ran over the offer.  He had an open contract with

Anglo-Tanganyika Sugar Company to supply gasoline powered sugar-cane
crushers at a fixed price of 110 pounds each.

From the three cars he could make up three units maximum of
330pounds.

The Limey's offer was for all five units, at a price to be
determined.

"I've done one hell of a lot of work on them," Jake softened him a
little.

"I can see that."

"One hundred and fifty pounds each for all five.  That's seven hundred
and fifty."

"You would replace the engines and make them look all ship-shape."

"Sure."

"Done," said Gareth.  "I

knew we could work something out," and they beamed at each other.

"I'll make out a deed of sale right away," Gareth produced a cheque
book, "and then I'll give you my cheque for the full amount."

"Your what?  "The beam on Jake's face faded.

"My personal cheque on Courts of Piccadilly."  It was true that

Gareth Swales did have a chequing account with Courts.  According to
his last statement, the account was in debit to the sum of eighteen
pounds seventeen and sixpence.  The manager had written him a spicy
little letter in red ink.

"Safe as the Bank of England."  Gareth flourished his cheque book.

It would take three weeks for the cheque to be presented in London and
bounce through the roof.  By that time, he hoped to be on his way to
Madrid.  There looked to be a very profitable little piece of business
brewing up satisfactorily in that area, and by then Gareth

Swales would have the capital to exploit it.

"Funny thing about cheques."  Jake removed the cheroot from his mouth.
"They bring me out in a rash.  If it's all the same to you,

I'll just take the seven fifty in cash money."

Ok Gareth pursed his lips.  Very well, so it wasn't going to be that
easy either.

"Dear me," he said.  "It will take a little while to clear."

"No hurry, "Jake grinned at him.  "Any time before noon tomorrow.
That's the delivery date I have for my original buyer.  You be here
with the money before that, and they are all yours."  He rose abruptly
from the bath, cascading soapy water, and his black servant handed him
a towel.

"What plans have you for dinner?"  Gareth asked.

"I think Abou here has cooked up a pot of his lion-killing stew."

"Won't you be my guest at the Royal?"

"I drank your beer for free why shouldn't I eat your food?"  asked Jake
reasonably.

The dining room of the Royal Hotel had high ceilings and tall
insect-screened sash windows.  The mechanical fans set in the roof
stirred the warm humid air sluggishly "into a substitute for
coolness,

and Gareth Swales was a splendid host.

His engaging charm was irresistible, and his choice of food and wine
induced in Jake a sense of such well-being that they laughed together
like old friends, and were delighted to find that they had mutual
acquaintances mostly harm en and brothel-keepers in various parts of
the world and that they had parallel experience.

Gareth had been doing business with a revolutionary leader in

Venezuela while Jake was helping build the railroad in that same
country.  Jake had been chief engineer on a Blake Line coaster on the

China run when Gareth had been making contact with the Chinese

Communists on Yellow River.

They had been in France at the same time, and on that terrible day at
Amiens, when the German machine guns had accelerated Gareth Swales's
promotion from subaltern to major in the space of six hours, Jake had
been four miles down the line, a sergeant driver in the Royal Tank

Corps seconded from the American Third Army.

They discovered that they were almost of an age, neither of them yet
forty, but that both of them had packed a world of experience and
wandering into that short span, They recognized in each other that same
restlessness that was always driving them on to new adventure, never
staying long enough in one place or at one job to grow roots,

unfettered by offspring or possessions, by spouse or
responsibilities,

taking up each new adventure eagerly and discarding it again without
qualms or regrets, Always moving onwards never looking backwards.

Understanding each other a little, they began to respect one another.
Halfway through the meal, they were no longer scornful of the other's
differences.  Neither of them thought of the other as Limey or

Yank any longer but this didn't mean that Jake was about to accept any
cheques or that Gareth had given up his plans to acquire the five
armoured cars.  At last Gareth swilled the last few drops around his
brandy balloon and glanced at his pocket watch.

"Nine o'clock.  It's too early for bed.  What shall we do now?"

Jake suggested, "There are two new girls down at Madame Cecile's.  They
came in on the mail boat."  Gareth quickly turned the suggestion
aside.

"Later perhaps but too soon after dinner, it gives me heartburn.

You don't, by any chance, feel like a few hands at cards?  There is
usually a decent game down at the club."

"We can't go in there.  We aren't members."

"I have reciprocity with my London club, old boy.

Sign you in, what?"  They had played for an hour and a half.  Jake was
enjoying the game.  He liked the style of the establishment, for he
usually played in less salubrious surroundings the back room behind the
bar, an upturned fruit-crate behind the main boiler in an engine room,
or a scratch game in a dockside warehouse.

This was a hushed room with draped velvet curtains, expanses of dark
wood panelling, dark-toned oil paintings and hunting trophies
shaggy-maned lions, buffalo with huge bossed horns drooping
mournfully,

all of them staring down with glassy eyes from the walls.

From the three billiard tables came the discreet click of the ivory
balls, as half a dozen players in dress shirts and braces, black ties
and black trousers, evening jackets discarded for the game, leaned
across the heavy green-topped tables to play their shots.

There were three tables of contract bridge from which came the murmur
of bid and counter bid in the cultivated tones of the British upper
class, all the players in the dress that Jake thought of as penguin
suits black and white, with black bows.

Between the tables, the waiters moved on silent bare feet, in
ankle-length white robes and pillbox fez, like priests of some ancient
religion bearing trays of sparkling crystal glass.

There was only one table of draw poker, a huge teak structure with
brass ashtrays set into the woodwork, and niches and trays to hold the
whisky glasses and the coloured ivory chips.  At the table sat five
players, and only Jake was not in evening dress the other three were
the type of poker players that Jake would dearly love to have kept
locked up for his exclusive pleasure.

There was a minor British peer, out in Africa to decimate the wildlife.
He had recently returned from the interior, where a white hunter had
stood respectfully at his elbow with a heavy-calibre rifle,

while the peer mowed down vast numbers of buffalo, lion and
rhinoceros.

This gentleman had a nervous tic under his right eye which jumped
whenever he held three of a kind or better in his hand.

Despite this affliction, a phenomenal run of good cards had allowed him
to be the only winner, other than Jake, at the table.

There was a coffee planter with a deeply tanned and wrinkled face who
made an involuntary little hissing sound whenever he improvised on the
draw or squeezed out a pleasing combination.

On Jake's right hand was an elderly civil servant with thinning hair
and a fever-yellow complexion who broke out in a muck sweat whenever he
judged himself on the point of winning a pot an expectation which was
seldom realized.

In an hour's careful play, Jake had built up his winnings to a little
over a hundred pounds and he felt very warm and contented down there
where his dinner was digesting.  The only element in his life that
afforded him any disquiet was his new friend and sponsor.

Gareth Swales sat at his ease, conversing with the peer as an equal,
condescending graciously to the planter and commiserating with the
civil servant on his run of luck.  He had neither won nor lost any
significant amount, yet he handled the cards with a dexterity that was
impressive.  In those long tapering fingers with the carefully
manicured nails, the pasteboards rustled and rippled, blurred and
snapped, with a speed that defied the eye.

Jake watched carefully, without appearing to do so, whenever the deal
passed to Major Gareth Swales.  There is no way that a dealer,

even with the most magical touch, can stack a deck of cards without
facing them during the shuffle and Gareth never faced the deck as he
manipulated it.  His eyes never even dropped to the cards, but played
lightly over the faces of the others as he chatted.  Jake began to
relax a little.

The planter dealt him four to an open-ended flush, and he filled it
with the six of hearts.  The civil servant, who had an insatiable
curiosity, called his raise to twenty pounds and sighed and muttered
mournfully as he paid the ivory chips into the pot and Jake swept them
away and stacked them neatly in front of him.

"Let's have a new pack-" smiled Gareth, lifting a finger for a servant,
and hope that it breaks your run of luck."  Gareth offered the seal on
the new pack for inspection, then split it with his thumbnail and
unwrapped the pristine cards with their bicycle-wheel designs,

fanned them, lifted the jokers and began to shuffle, at the same time
starting a very funny and obscene story about a bishop who entered the
women's rest room at Choring Cross Station in error.

The joke took a minute or two in the telling and in the roar of
masculine laughter that followed, Gareth began to deal, skimming the
cards across the green baize, so that they piled up neatly before each
player.  Only Jake had noticed that during the bishop's harrowing
experiences in the ladies" room, Gareth had blocked the cards between
shuffles, and that each time as he lifted the two blocks he had rolled
his wrists so that for a fleeting instant they had fanned slightly and
faced.

Guffawing loudly, the baron gathered up his hand and looked at it.

He choked in the middle of his next guffaw, and his eyelid started to
jump and twitch, as though it was making love to his nose.  From across
the table came a loud hiss of indrawn breath as the planter closed his
cards quickly and covered them with both hands.  At Jake's right
hand,

the civil servant's face shone like polished yellow ivory and a little
trickle of sweat broke from his thinning hairline, ran down his nose,

and dripped unheeded on to the front of his dress shirt, as he stared
at his cards.

Jake opened his own cards, and glanced at the three queens it
contained.  He sighed and began his own story.

"When I was first engineer on the old Harvest Maid tied up in

Kowloon, the skipper brought a fancy little dude on board and we all
got into a game.  The stakes kept jumping up and up, and just after
midnight this dude dealt one hell of a hand."  Nobody appeared to be
listening to Jake's story, they were all too absorbed with their own
cards.

"The skipper ended up with four kings, I got four jacks and the ship's
doctor pulled a mere four tens."  Jake rearranged the queens in his
hand and broke off his story while Gareth Swales fulfilled the civil
servant's request for two cards.

"The dude himself took one card from the draw and the betting went mad.
We were throwing everything we owned into the pot.  Thanks,

friend, I'll take two cards also."  Gareth flicked two cards across the
table, and Jake discarded from his hand before picking them up.

"As I was saying, we were almost stripping off our underpants to throw
it all in the middle.  I was in for a little over a thousand bucks Jake
squeezed open the new cards and could hardly suppress a grin.  All the
ladies were there.  Four pretty little queens peered out at him.

"We signed IOUs, we pledged our wages, and the dude came right along on
the ride, not pushing the betting but staying right there."

Gareth gave the baron one card and drew one himself.

They were listening now, eyes darting from Jake's lips to their own
cards.

"Well, when it came to the showdown, we were looking at each other
across a pile of cash that came to the ceiling and the dude hit us with
a straight flush.  I remember it so clearly, in clubs three to the
eight.  It took the skipper and me twelve hours to recover from the
shock and then we worked out the odds on that deal just happening
naturally it was something like sixteen million to one.  The odds were
against the dude and we went looking for him.  Found him down at the
old Peninsula Hotel, spending our hard-won gold.  We were preparing for
sea at the time.  Our boilers were cold.  We sat the dude on top of
them, and fired them.

Had to tie him down, of course, and after a few hours his knockers,
were roasting like chestnuts."

"By God," exclaimed the peer.

"How awful."

"Quite right," Jake agreed.  "Hell of a stink in my engine room."  A
heavy charged silence settled over the table all of them aware that
something explosive was about to happen, that an accusation had been
made, but most of them not certain what the accusation was,

and at whom it had been levelled.  They held up their cards like
protective shields, and their eyes darted suspiciously from face to
face.  The atmosphere was so tense that it pervaded the gracious
room,

and the players at the other tables paused and looked up.

I think," Gareth Swales drawled in crisp tones that carried to every
corner of the listening room, "that what Mr.  Barton is trying to say
is that somebody is cheating."  That word, spoken in these
surroundings, was so shocking, so charged with dire consequence, that
strong men gasped and blanched.  Cheating in the club, by God, better a
man be accused of adultery or ordinary murder.

"I must say that I have to agree with Mr.  Barton."  The icy blue eyes
snapped with angry lights, and he turned deliberately to the bewildered
member of the House of lords beside him.

"I wonder if you would be good enough, sir, to inform us as to the
exact amount of our money that you have won."  The voice cracked like a
whiplash, and the peer stared at him with complete incomprehension for
a moment and then his face mottled purple and crimson, and he gobbled
angrily.

"Sir!  How dare you.  Good God, sir!-" and he rose in his seat,

breathless, choking with outrage.

"Have at him!"  cried Gareth, and overturned the heavy teak table with
a single upward thrust of both hands.  It crashed over, pinning the
planter and the civil servant under it, and scattering ivory chips and
playing cards in such profusion that nobody would ever know what cards
Gareth Swales had dealt to himself in that last remarkable deal.

Gareth leaned across the struggling mass of downed players and clipped
the peer smartly under the left ear.

"Cheating!  Ha!  Caught you cheating!"  The peer roared like a bull and
swung a full-armed punch under which Gareth ducked lightly, but which
went on to catch the club secretary between the eyes, as he hurried up
to intervene.

The room erupted into violence, as the other members rushed in to
assist the secretary.

Jake tried to reach Gareth, through the sudden seething storm of
bodies.

"Not him, you!"  he shouted angrily, flexing his arms and knotting his
fists.

There were forty club members in the room.  Only one person was not
dressed in the uniform that showed they belonged Jake in his baggy
moleskins and the pack turned on him.

"Watch out behind you, old boy," Gareth warned Jake in a friendly
fashion, as he reached out to take the lapels of Gareth's suit in his
hands.

Jake whirled to meet the rush of angry members, and the fists that were
bunched for Major Swales thudded into the charging group.  Two of them
dropped but the rest swarmed on.

"Lay on!"  Gareth encouraged him merrily.  "And damned be he who cries
"Enough"."  Miraculously he had armed himself with a billiard cue.

By now, Jake was almost totally submerged under a heaving mound of
black evening dress.  There were three of them riding on his back, two
hanging around his legs, and one tucked under each of his arms.

"Not me, you fools.  Not me him!"  He tried to point to Gareth,

but both his arms were occupied.

"Quite right," Gareth agreed.  "Dirty cheating dog!"  and he wielded
the billiard cue with uncanny skill, holding it inverted and tapping
the thick end smartly against the skulls of the well-dressed gentlemen
riding on Jake's back.  They dropped away, and freed of their weight
Jake turned to Gareth once more.

"Listen-!"  he bellowed, advancing despite the bodies that clung to his
legs.

"Listen, indeed."  Gareth cocked his head, and the sound of a police
whistle shrilled, and there was the glimpse of uniforms beyond double
doors.  "Peelers, by Jove, Gareth announced.  "Perhaps we should move
on.  Follow me, old son."  With a few expert swings of the billiard
cue, he knocked the glass from the window beside him, and stepped
lightly and unruffled into the darkened garden.

Jake strode along the unlit footpath under the dark jacaranda trees. He
followed the main road out towards his camp beside the stream.  The
outraged cries and the sound of police whistles had long since died
away in the night behind.

Jake's anger had also died away, and he chuckled once as he thought of
the peer's purple face and his bulging affronted eyes.  Then behind
him, following along the dark street, he heard the rhythmic squeak of
the springs of a ricksha, and the pad of bare feet.

Even before he looked back, he knew who was following.

"Thought I'd lost you," Gareth Swales remarked lightly, his handsome
noble features lit by the glow of the cheroot between his teeth as he
lolled against the cushions of the ricksha.  "You took off like a long
dog after a bitch.  fantastic turn of speed.  I was very impressed."
Jake said nothing, but strode on towards his camp.

"You can't possibly be bound for bed."  The ricksha kept station beside
Jake.  "The night is still a pup and who can say what beautiful
thoughts and stirring deeds Care still to be thought and performed."
Jake tried not to grin, and kept going.

"Madame Cecile's?"Gareth wheedled.

"You really do want those cars don't you?"

"I am hurt,"

announced Gareth, "that you should imply gross materialism to my
friendly overtures."

"Who is paying?  "demanded Jake.

"You are my guest."

"Well, I've drunk your beer, eaten your food why should I stop now?" He
stopped and walked to the ricksha.  "Move over, then, he said.

The ricksha driver wheeled in a tight turn and trotted back into the
town, while Gareth pressed a cheroot between Jake's lips.

"What did you deal yourself?"  Jake asked, between puffs of the
fragrant smoke.  "Four aces?  Straight flush?"

"I am appalled at the implied slur on my character, sir.  I shall
ignore the question."  They jogged a little farther in silence until it
was Gareth's turn to ask the next question.

"You didn't really roast that poor fellow's chestnuts, did you?"

No, "Jake admitted.  "But it made a better story."  They reached the
door of Madame Cecile's, discreetly set back in a walled garden, with a
lamp burning over the lintel.

Gareth paused with his hand on the brass knocker.

"You know damned if I don't owe you an apology.  I've misjudged you all
along the line."

"It's been a lot of laughs."

"I think I'm going to have to be honest with you."

"I don't know if I can stand the shock."  They grinned at each other
and Gareth punched his shoulder lightly.

"It's still my treat, what?"  Madame Cecile was so tall and thin and
bosorriless that she seemed in danger of snapping off like a brittle
stick.  She wore a severely cut dress of dark and indeterminate colour
which swept the ground and buttoned up under her chin and at the
wrists.  Her hair was drawn back tightly into a large bun at the back
of her neck and her expression was prim and disapproving, but it
softened a little when she let them into the front room.

"Major Swales, it is always a pleasure.  Mr.  Barton, we haven't seen
you in a long while.  I was afraid you'd left town."

"Let us have a bottle of Charlie Champers, my dear."  Gareth handed his
silk scarf to the maid.  "Have you run out of the Pal Roger 1923?"

"Indeed not,

Major."

"And we'd like to talk alone for a while before meeting any of the
young tallies.  Is your private lounge vacant?"  Gareth was settled
comfortably in one of the big leather armchairs with a glass of
champagne in one hand and a cheroot in the other.

Duce is about to put himself in to bat.  Though God alone knows what he
hopes to gain by it.  From all accounts, it's the most desolate stretch
of desert and mountain one could imagine.  However,

Mussolini wants it perhaps he has visions of empire and glory.  The old
Napoleonic itch, you know."

"How do you know this?"  Jake was sprawled on the buttoned couch across
the room.  He wasn't drinking the champagne.  He didn't like the
taste.

"It's my business to know, old chap.  I can smell out a barney before
the fellows themselves know they are going to fight.  This one is a
racing certainty.  Duce is going through all the classic stages of
protestations of peaceful intentions, combined with wholesale military
preparations.

The other big powers France, our chaps and yours have given him the
wink.  Of course, they'll all squeal like blazes, and make all sorts of
protests at the League of Nations but nobody is about to stop old
Benito making a big grab for Ethiopia.  hail Selassie, the king of
kings, knows it and so is princes and roses an c ieftains and merry
men.

And they are desperately trying to prepare some kind of defence.

That's where I come in, old boy."

"Why must they buy from you at the prices you say they are offering?
Surely they could get this sort of stuff direct from the
manufacturers?"

"Embargo, old chap.  The

League of Nations have slapped an arms embargo on the whole of
Eritrea,

Somaliland and Ethiopia.  No imports of war material into the area.

It's intended to reduce tension but of course it works out completely
one-sided.  Mussolini doesn't have to go shopping for his armaments he
has all the guns, aircraft and armour that he needs already landed at
Eritrea.  just ready to go and the jolly old Ethiopia has a few ancient
rifles and a lot of those long two-anded swords.  It should be a close
match.

You aren't drinking your Charlie Champers?"

"I think I'll go get myself a Tusker.  Back in a minute.  "Jake rose
and moved to the door and

Gareth shook his head sadly.

"You've got taste buds like a crocodile's back.  Tusker, forsooth,

when I'm offering you a vintage Charlie."  It was more for a chance to
think out his position and plan his moves than desire for beer that
made Jake seek the bar in the front room.  He leaned against the
counter in the crowded room, and his mind went swiftly over what
Gareth

Swales had told him.  He tried to decide how much was fact and how much
was fantasy.  How the facts affected him and where, if there were
any,

the profits to himself might lie.

He had almost decided not to involve himself in the deal there were too
many thorns along that path and to go ahead with his original
intentions, selling the engines as cane-crushing units when he was made
the victim of one of those coincidences which were too neat not to be
one of the sardonic jokes of fate.

Beside him at the bar were two young men in the sober dress of clerks
or accountants.  Each of them had a girl tucked under his arm and they
fondled them absentmindedly as they talked in loud assertive voices.
Jake had been too busy making his decision to follow this conversation
until a name caught his attention.

"By the way, did you hear that Anglo Sugar has gone bang?"

"No, I

don't believe it."

"It's true.  Heard it from the Master of the Court himself.

They say they've gone bust for half a million."

"Good God that's the third big company this month."

"It's hard times we live in.  This will bring down a lot of little men
with it."  Jake agreed silently.  He poured the beer into his glass,
tossed a coin on the counter and headed back for the private lounge.

They were hard times indeed, Jake thought.  This was the second time in
as many months that he had been caught up in them.

The freighter on which he had arrived in Dares Salaam as chief engineer
had been seized by the sheriff of the court as surety in a bankruptcy
action.  The owners had gone bust in London, and the ship had been
unable to pay off.

Jake had walked down the gang-plank with all his worldly possessions in
the kit-bag over his shoulder abandoning his claim to almost six
months" back wages, together with all his savings in the bankrupt
company's pension fund.

He had just started to shape up with the cane-crusher contract,

when once again the tidal waves of depression sweeping across the world
had swamped him.  They were all going bang the big ones and the small,
and Jake Barton now found himself the owner of five armoured cars for
which there remained but a single buyer in the market.

Gareth was standing by the window, looking down to the harbor where the
lights of the anchored ships flickered across the dark waters.  He
turned to face Jake and went on as though there had been no break in
the conversation.

"While we are still being disgustingly honest with each other, let me
estimate that the Ethiopians would pay as much as a thousand pounds
each for those vehicles.  Of course, they would have to be spruced
up.

A coat of paint, and a machine gun in the turret."

"I'm still listening.  "Jake sank back on the couch.

"I have the buyer lined up and the Vickers machine without which the
cars have no value.  You have the guns, vehicles themselves and the
technical know-how to get them working."  Jake was seeing a different
man in Gareth Swales now.

The lazy drawling voice and foppish manner were gone.  He spoke crisply
and once again there was the piratical blue sparkle in his eyes.

"I have never worked with a partner before.  I always knew I could do
it better on my own but I've had a chance to get a good look at you.
This could be the first time.  What do you think?"

"If you cross me, Gareth I will truly roast your chestnuts for you."
Gareth threw back his head and laughed delightedly.  "I believe you
really would,

Jake!"  He crossed the room and offered his hand.

"Equal partners.  You put in the cars, and I'll throw in my pile of
goodies everything down the middle?"  he asked, and Jake took the
hand.

"Right down the middle he agreed.

"That's enough business for tonight let's meet the ladies."  Jake
suggested that Gareth as a full partner might like to assist in
refitting the engines and painting the body work of the cars, and
Gareth blanched and lit a cheroot.

"Look here, old chap.  Don't let's take this equal partners lark too
far.  Manual labour isn't really my style at all."

"I'll have to hire a gang, then."

"Please don't stint yourself Hire what and who you need."  Gareth waved
the cheroot magnanimously.  "I've got to get down to the docks, grease
a few palms and that sort of thing.  Then I'm dining at Government
House this evening, making the contacts that may be useful to us, you
understand?"  In a ricksha, bearing the silver champagne bucket full of
Tusker, Gareth appeared at the camp under the mahogany trees the
following morning to find half a dozen blacks labouring under Jake's
supervision.  The colour Jake had chosen was a businesslike battleship
grey, and one of the cars had received its first coat.  The effect was
miraculous.

The vehicle had been transformed from a slovenly wreck into a
formidable-looking war machine.

"By Jove," Gareth enthused.  "Even I am impressed.  The old

Ethiops will go wild."  He walked along the line of cars, and stopped
at the end.  "Only three being painted.  What about these two?"

"I

explained to you.  There are only three runners."  lOok, old chap.

Don't let's be too fussy.  Slap paint on all of them and I'll put them
into the package.  We aren't selling with a guarantee, what?"

Gareth smiled brilliantly and winked at Jake.  "By the time the
complaints come in, you and I will have moved on and no forwarding
address."  He did not realize that the suggestion was trampling rudely
on Jake's craftsman's pride, until he saw the now familiar stiffening
of the wide shoulders and the colour coming up Jake's neck.

Half an hour later they were still arguing.

"I've got a reputation on three oceans and across seven seas that

I'm not likely to pass up for a couple of pox-ridden old bangers like
these," shouted Jake, and he kicked the wheel of one of the condemned
vehicles.  "Nobody's ever going to say that Jake Barton sold a bum."

Gareth had swiftly gained a working knowledge of his man's temper.  He
knew instinctively that they were on the very brink of physical
violence and quite suddenly he changed his attitude.

"Listen, old chap.  There's no point in shouting at each other-2

"I am not shouting-" roared Jake.

"No, of course not, "Gareth soothed him.  "I see your point entirely.
Quite right too.  I'd feel exactly the same way."  Only slightly
mollified, Jake opened his mouth to protest further, but before sound
passed his lips, Gareth had pressed a long black cheroot between them
and lit it.

"Now let's use what brains God gave us, shall we?  Tell me why these
two won't run and what we need to make them do so."  Fifteen minutes
later they were sitting under the sun-flap of Jake's old tent,

drinking iced Tusker, and under Gareth's skilful soothing the
atmosphere was once more one of friendly co-operation.

"A Smith-Bentley carburettor?"  Gareth repeated thoughtfully.

"I've tried every possible supplier.  The local agent even cabled

Cape Town and Nairobi.  We'd have to order one from England eight weeks
delivery, if we are lucky."

"Look here, old son.  I don't mind telling you that this means facing a
fate worse than death but for the good of our mutual venture, I'll do
it."  The Governor of Tanganyika had a daughter who was a spinster of
thirty-two years, this despite her father's large fortune and respected
title.

Gareth glanced sideways at her and saw all too clearly why this should
be.  The first adjective which sprang to mind was "horsey', but it was
not the correct one, Gareth decided.

"Comely'or'camel-like' would convey a much more accurate description.
A besotted camel, he thought, as he intercepted the adoring gaze which
she fixed upon him as she sat sideways upon the luxurious leather
seats.

"Jolly good of you to let me take your Pater's bus for a spin, old
girl.  And she simpered at the endearment, exposing the huge yellowish
teeth under the large nose.

A V A "Definitely thinking of buying one myself, when I get home.

Can't beat the old Benters, what?"  Gareth swung the long black
limousine off the metal led road and it plunged forward smoothly over
the dusty rutted track that led northwards along the coast through the
palm trees.

An ask ari policeman recognized the fluttering pennant on the front
wing, red and blue and gold with rampant lion and unicorn, and he
pulled himself to foot-stamping attention and flung a flamboyant
salute.  Gareth touched the brim of his hat to the manner born, then
turned to his companion who had not taken her eyes from his tanned and
noble face since they had left the grounds of Government House.

"There is a good view place up ahead, looks out across actually.

Thought we'd park the channel, very beautiful there for a while."  She
nodded vehemently, unable to trust herself to speak.

Gareth was glad of that she had a squeaky little treble and he smiled
his gratitude.  That brilliant, completely irresistible smile,

and the girl blushed a mottled purple.

She had good eyes, Gareth tried to convince himself, that is if you
like camels" eyes.  Huge sorrowful pools with long matted lashes.

He would concentrate on the eyes and try and avoid the teeth.  He felt
a sudden small twinge of concern.  "I hope she doesn't bite in the
critical moments.

With those choppers, she could inflict a mortal wound."  For a moment
he considered abandoning the project.  Then he made himself imagine a
pile of one thousand sovereigns, and his courage returned.

Gareth braked the Bentley and searched for the turnoffs It was well
concealed by underbrush and he missed it and had to back up.

Gently he eased the gleaming limousine down into a small clearing,

walled in by fern and scrub and roofed over by the cathedral arches of
the palms.

"Well, here we are, what?"  Gareth pulled on the hand brake and turned
to his companion.  "Actually you can see the channel if you twist your
neck a bit."  He leaned forward to demonstrate, and with a convulsive
leap the Governor's daughter sprang upon him.  Gareth's last controlled
thought was that he must avoid the teeth.

Jake Barton waited until the huge glistening Bentley began to heave and
toss on its suspension like a lifeboat in a gale, before he rose from
the cover of the ferns and, carpet-bag in hand, crept around to the
bonnet with its gleaming winged initial V and the stiffly embroidered
household pennant.

The noise he made in opening and lifting the engine cowling was
effectively smothered by the whinnying cries of passion that issued out
-of the car, and Jake glanced through the windscreen and caught one
horrifying glimpse of the Governor's daughter's white limbs, long and
shapeless and knobbly kneed as a camel's kicking ecstatically at the
roof of the cab before he ducked his head into the engine.

He worked swiftly, his lips pursed but the tune stealthily muted,

and his brow creased with concentration as the carburettor jumped and
heaved unpredictably under his hands and the whinnies of passion and
the high-pitched exhortations to greater effort and speed rang
louder.

The resentment he had felt at Gareth Swales's refusal to assist in
painting the iron ladies faded swiftly.  He was pushing and pulling his
full weight now, and his efforts made even the most gruelling manual
labour seem insignificant.

As Jake lifted the entire carburettor assembly off the engine block and
stowed it into the carpet-bag, there was one last piercing shriek and
the Bentley came to an abrupt rest while a ringing silence fell over
the palm grove.

Jake Barton crept silently away through the undergrowth leaving his
partner stunned and entangled in a mesh of lanky limbs and expensive
French underwear.

"I want you to believe that in my weakened condition it was a long walk
home.  At the same time, I had to try and convince the lady that we
were not betrothed."

"We'll get you a citation," Jake promised him,

and emerged from the engine housing of the armoured car.

"With disregard for his own personal safety Major Gareth Swales held
the pass, stan ned the breach, battered down the gates-"

"Terribly amusing," growled Gareth.  "But, just like you, I have a
reputation to maintain.  It would embarrass me in certain circles if
this got out,

old son.  Mum's the word, what?"

"You have my word of honour," Jake told him seriously, and stooped over
the crank handle.  She fired at the first turn and settled to a steady
rhythm to which Jake listened for a few moments before he grinned.

"Listen to her, the bloody little beauty," and he turned to

Gareth.  "Wasn't it worth it just to hear that sweet burbling song?"

Gareth rolled his eyes in agonized memory and Jake went on.  "Four of
them.  Four lovely, well-behaved ladies.  What more could you ask out
of life?"

"Five,"said Gareth promptly, and Jake scowled.

"We'd put my name on the fifth one," he wheedled.  "I'd sign a
statement to protect your reputation."  But the expression on Jake's
face was sufficient answer.

"No?"  Gareth sighed.  "I predict that your sentimental,

oldfashioned outlook is going to get us both into a lot of trouble."

"We can split up now."

"Wouldn't dream of it, old son.  Actually, it would have been dicey
peddling a dead one to those Ethiops.  They've got these dirty great
swords, and it's not only your head that they lop off or so I hear. No,
we'll settle for just the four, then."  May

22nd the Dunnottar Castle anchored in the Dares Salaam roads and was
immediately surrounded by a swarm of barges and lighters.  She was the
flagship of the Union Castle Line, outward bound from Southampton to

Cape Town, Durban, Lourenco Marques, Dares Salaam and Jibuti.

Two suites and ten double cabins of the first class accommodation were
taken up by Lij Mikhael Wasan Sagud and his entourage.  The Lij was a
scion of the royal house of Ethiopia that traced its line back to

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  He was a trusted member of the

Emperor's inner circle and, under his father, the deputy governor of a
piece of mountain and desert country in the northern provinces the size
of Scotland and Wales combined.

The Ras was returning to his homeland after six months of petitioning
the foreign ministers of Great Britain and France, and lobbying in the
halls of the League of Nations in Geneva, trying to gather pledges of
support for his country in the face of the gathering storm clouds of
Fascist Italian aspirations towards an African Empire.

The Lij was a disillusioned man when he disembarked with four of his
senior advisers and made the short journey by lighter to where two
hired open tourers awaited his arrival on the wharf.  Hire of the motor
vehicles had been arranged by Major Gareth Swales and the drivers had
been given their instructions.

"Now, you leave the talking to me, old chap," Gareth advised Jake,

as they waited anxiously in the cavernous and gloomy depths of No.  4

Warehouse.  "This really is my part of the show, you know.  You just
look stern and do the demonstrating.  That will impress the old Ethiop
no end."  Gareth was resplendent in a pale blue tropical suit with a
fresh white carnation in the buttonhole, and silk shirt.  He wore the
diagonally striped old school tie, his hair was brilliantined and
carefully brushed, and the sleek lines of the mustache had been trimmed
that morning.  He ran a judicious eye over his partner and was mildly
satisfied.  Jake's suit had not been cut in Savile Row, of course, but
it was adequate for the occasion, clean and freshly pressed.  His shoes
had been newly polished and the usually unruly profusion of curls had
been wetted and slicked down neatly.

He had scrubbed all traces of grease from his large bony hands and from
under his fingernails.

"They probably don't even speak English," Gareth gave his opinion.

"Have to use the old sign language, you know.

Wish you'd let me have that dead one.  We could have palmed it off on
them.  They are bound to be a gullible lot, throw in a handful of beads
and a bag of salt-" He was interrupted by the sound of approaching
engines.

"This will be them, now.  Don't forget what I told you."  The two open
tourers pulled up in the bright sunlight beyond the doors and disgorged
their passengers.  Four of them wore the long flowing white shammas,
full-length robes like Roman togas draped across the shoulder.

Under the robes they wore black gabardine riding breeches and open
sandals.  They were all of them elderly men, the dense bushes of their
hair shot through with strands of grey and the dark faces wrinkled and
lined.  In dignified silence they gathered about the taller, younger
figure clad in a dark western-style suit and they moved forward into
the cool gloom of the warehouse.

Lij Mikhael was well over six feet in height, with a slight scholarly
stoop to his shoulders.  His skin was the colour of dark honey and his
hair and beard were a thick.  curly halo about the finely boned face,
with dark thoughtful eyes and the narrow nose with its

Semitic beak.  Despite the stoop, he walked with the grace of a
swordsman and his teeth when he smiled were glisteningly white against
the dark skin.

"By Jove," said the Lij, in the drawling accent that echoed

Gareth's with surprising accuracy.  "It is Forty swales isn't it?"

Major Gareth Swales's composure seemed to fall away, leaving him
tottering mentally at the use of a nickname he had last heard twenty
years before.  He had been so branded when his unexpected attack of
flatus had clapped and echoed from the vaulted ceiling and stone walls
of College Chapel.  He had hoped never to hear it spoken again, and now
its use took him back to that moment when he had stood in the cold
stone chapel and the waves of suppressed laughter had broken over his
head like physical blows.

The Prince laughed now, and touched the knot of his necktie.  For the
first time Jake realized that the diagonal stripes were identical to
those that Gareth Swales wore at his own throat.

"Eton 1915 Waynflete's.  I was Captain of the House.  I gave you six
for smoking in the bogs don't you remember?"

"My God," gasped

Gareth.  "Toffee Sagud.  My God.  I just don't know what to say."

"Try him with the old sign language, then," murmured Jake helpfully.

"Shut up, damn you," hissed Gareth, and then with a conscious effort he
resurrected the smile that lit the gloomy warehouse like the rising of
the sun.

"Your Excellency Toffee my dear fellow."  He hurried forward with hand
outstretched.  "What a great and unexpected pleasure."  They shook
hands laughing, and the solemn dark faces of the elderly advisers
lightened with sympathetic merriment.

"Let me introduce my partner, Mr.  Jake Barton of Texas.

Mr.  Barton is a brilliant engineer and financier Jake, this is

His Excellency Lij Mikhael Wasan Sagud, Deputy Governor of Shoo and an
old and dear friend of mine."  The Prince's hand was narrow-boned, cool
and firm.  His gaze was quick and penetrating before he turned back
to

Gareth.

"When were you expelled?  Summer of 1915 wasn't it?

Caught boffing one of the maids, as I recall."

"Good Lord, no!"

Gareth was horrified.  "Never the hired help.  Actually, it was the
house master's daughter."

"That's right.  I remember now.  You were famous went out in a blaze of
glory.  Talk about your feat lasted for months.  They said you went to
France with the Duke's, and did jolly well for yourself."  Gareth made
a deprecating gesture, and Lij Mikhael asked, "Since then what have you
been doing, old chap?"  Which was a thoroughly embarrassing question
for Gareth.  He made a few airy gestures with his cheroot.

This and that, you know.  One thing and another.

Business, you understand.  Importing, exporting, buying and selling."

"Which brings us to the present business, does it not?"  the

Prince asked gently.

"Indeed, it does," agreed Gareth and took the Prince's arm.  "Now that
I realize who is buying, it only increases my pleasure in managing to
assemble a package of such high quality."  The wooden crates were
stacked neatly along one wall of the warehouse.

"A .

"Fourteen Vickers machine guns, most of them straight from the factory
hardly a shot through the barrels-" They passed slowly down the array
of merchandise to where one of the machine guns had been uncrated and
set up on its tripod.

"As YOU can see, all first-class stuff."  The five Ethiopians were all
warriors, from a long warlike line, and they had the true warrior's
love of and delight in the weapons of war.  They crowded eagerly around
the gun.

Gareth winked at Jake, and went on, "One hundred and forty-four

Lee-Enfield service rifles, still in the grease-" Half a dozen of the
rifles had been cleaned and laid out on display.

No.  4 Warehouse was an Aladdin's Cave for them.  The elderly courtiers
forgot their dignity, and fell upon the weapons like a flock of crows,
cackling in Amharic as they fondled the cold oiled steel.

They hoisted up the skirts of their shammas to crouch behind the
demonstration machine gun and traversed it happily, making the staccato
schoolboy imitations of automatic fire as they mowed down imaginary
hordes of their enemies.

Even Lij Mikhael forsook his Etonian manners and joined in the
delighted examination of the hoard, pushing aside an old greybeard of
seventy to take his place at the Vickers gun and triggering off a noisy
squabble amongst the others in which Gareth diplomatically
intervened.

"I say, Toffee, old chap.  This isn't all I have for you.  Not by a
long chalk.  I've kept the plums for the last."  And Jake helped him to
gather up the robed and bearded group of excited old men and herd them
gently away from the display of weapons and down the warehouse to the
open tourers.

The motorcade, headed by Gareth, Jake and the Prince in the leading
tourer, came bumping down the dusty track through the mahogany forest
and parked in the clearing in front of the candy-striped marquee that
had taken the place of Jake's weather-beaten bell tent.

The Royal Hotel had undertaken to cater for the occasion, despite

Jake's protests at the cost.

"Give them a bottle of Tusker each and open a tin of beans," he
insisted, but Gareth had shaken his head sadly.

"Just because they are savages doesn't mean that we have to behave like
barbarians, old chap.  Style.  One has to have style that's what life
is all about.  Style and timing.  Fill them up with Charlie and then
take them for a stroll down the garden path, what?"  Now there were
white-robed waiters with red sashes and little red pillbox fezes upon
their heads.  Under the marquee, long trestle-tables were laden with
displays of choice food decorated sucking pig, heaped salvers of boiled
scarlet reef lobster, a smoked salmon, imported apples and peaches from
the Cape of Good Hope and case upon case, bucket upon bucket of
champagne.  Although Gareth had been swayed t by Jake's pleas for
economy sufficiently to order a Veuve Clicquot not of a selected
vintage.

The Prince and his entourage disembarked to a salvo of champagne corks
and the elderly courtiers crowed with delight.  Quite by chance,

Gareth had struck upon the Ethiopians" love of feasting and strong
sense of hospitality.

Little that he could have done would have endeared him more to his
guests.

"I say, this is very decent of you, my dear Swales" said the

Prince.  With his innate sense of courtesy, he had not used Gareth's
nickname since the first greeting.  Gareth was grateful and when the
glasses were filled he called for the first toast.

"His Majesty, Negusa Nagast, King of Kings, Emperor Baile

Selassie, Lion of Judah."  And they drained their glasses, which seemed
to be the correct form, so Gareth and Jake imitated them, and then they
fell upon the food, giving Gareth a chance to whisper to Jake, "Think
up some more toasts we've got to get them filled up."  But he needn't
have worried for the Prince came in with: "His Britannic Majesty,

George V, King of England and Emperor of India."  And no sooner were
the glasses filled again than he bowed to Jake and lifted his glass.

"The President of the United States of America, Mr.  Franklin D.
Roosevelt."  Not to be outdone, each of the courtiers shouted an
unintelligible toast in Amharic, presumably to the Prince and his
father and mother and aunts, uncles and nieces, and the glasses were
upended.  The waiters rushed back and forth to the steady report of
champagne corks.

"The Governor of the British Colony of Tanganyika."  Gareth lifted his
glass, slurring slightly.

"And the Governor's daughter," Jake murmured sardonically.

This provoked another round of toasts from the robed guests, and then
it dawned on Jake and Gareth simultaneously that it was folly to try
drinking level with men who had been bred and reared on the fiery tej
of Ethiopia.

"How are you feeling?"  muttered Gareth anxiously, squinting slightly
to focus.

Beautiful, "Jake grinned at him beatifically.

"By God, these fellows know how to pack it away."

"Keep pounding them, Forty.  You've got them on the run."  With his
empty glass he indicated the smiling but sober group of courtiers.

"I'd be grateful if you could refrain from using that name, old chap.
Distasteful, what?  Not in the best of style."  Gareth slapped his
shoulder with bonhomie and almost missed.  A look of concern crossed
his face.  "How do I sound?"

"You sound like I feel.  We'd better get out of here before they drink
us flat on our backs."

"Oh

God, there he goes again," Gareth muttered with alarm as the Prince
raised his brimming glass and looked about him expectantly.  "Wine with
you, my dear Swales," he called as he caught Gareth's eyes.

"Enchanted, I'm sure."  Gareth had no choice but to acknowledge and
toss off the contents of his glass before hurrying forward to intercept
the waiter who darted in to recharge the Prince's empty glass.

"Toffee, old sport, I do want you to see this little surprise I

have for you."  He grabbed the Prince's drinking arm and prised the
glass from his grip.  "Come along, everybody.  This way, chaps."  Among
the grey-bearded courtiers there was a decided reluctance to leave the
marquee, and Jake had to assist Gareth.  Both-of them spreading their
arms and making shooing noises, they finally got them moving down the
track through the forest which emerged a hundred yards farther on into
an open glade the size of a polo field.

A stunned silence fell upon the party as they saw the row of four iron
ladies, gleaming in their new coats of grey, with the heavily jacketed
water-cooled barrels of the Vickers machine guns protruding from the
ports and the rakish turrets emblazoned with the tricolour horizontal
bars of the Ethiopian national colours green, yellow and red.

Like sleep-walkers, they allowed themselves to be led to the row of
chairs under the umbrellas, and without removing their gaze from the
war machines they sank into their seats.

Gareth stood in front of them like a schoolmaster, but swaying
slightly.

"Gentlemen, we have here one of the most versatile armoured vehicles
ever brought into service by any major military power And while he
paused for the Prince to translate, he grinned triumphantly at

Jake.

"Start them up, old son."  As the first engine burst into life, the
elderly courtiers came to their feet and applauded like the crowd at a
prize fight.

"Fifteen hundred quid each," whispered Gareth, his eyes sparkling,

"they'll go fifteen hundred!"  ij Mikhael had invited them to dine in
his suite aboard the Dunnottar Castle, and over Jake's Protests a
short-order tailor had run up a passable dinner jacket to fit Jake's
tall rangy frame.

"I look like I'm in fancy dress, "he objected.

"You look like a duke," Gareth contradicted.  "It gives you a bit of
style.  Style, Jake me lad, always remember.  Style!  If you look like
a tramp, people will treat you as one."  Lij Mikhael Sagud wore a
magnificently embroidered cloak in gold and scarlet and black, clasped
at the throat with a dark red ruby the size of a ripe acorn,

tieht-fitting velvet breeches and slippers embroidered with twenty-four
carat gold wire.  The dinner had been excellent and the Prince seemed
in a mellow mood.

"Now, my dear Swales.  The prices for the machine guns and the other
armaments were decided months ago but the armoured cars were never
mentioned.  Would you like to suggest a reasonable figure?"

"Your

Excellency, I had in mind a fair figure before I realized it was you

I

was dealing with-" Gareth drew deeply on one of the Prince's Havana
cigars, steeling himself for the wild flying chance he was going to
take.  "Now, of course, I am prepared merely to cover my costs and
leave only a modest profit for my partner and myself to share."  The

Prince showed his appreciation with a gracious gesture.

"Two thousand pounds each," said Gareth quickly, running the words
together to make it sound less shocking, but still Jake almost choked
on a mouthful of whisky soda.

The Prince nodded thoughtfully.  "I see," he said.  "That is probably
five times the actual value."  Gareth looked shocked.  "Your

Excellency-" But the Prince silenced him with a raised hand.

"During the last six months, I have spent a great deal of time
inspecting and pricing various items of military equipment.  My dear

Swales, please don't insult us both by protesting."  There was a long
silence and the atmosphere in the cabin was taut as guitar strings then
the Prince sighed.

"I could price those weapons but I could not buy.  The great powers of
the world have denied me that right the right to defend my country
against the predator."  There was an age of weariness in the dark eyes
and smooth brow furrowed with thought.  "My country is landlocked, as
you know, gentlemen.  We do not have access to the sea.

All imports must come through the territories of French and British

Somaliland or Italian Eritrea.  Italy the predator or the French and
the British who have placed us under embargo."  Lij Mikhael sipped at
the drink in his hand, and then frowned into the depths of the glass,

as though it were a crystal ball and he could read the future there.

"The great powers are prepared to deliver us to the Fascist tyrant,
with our sword hand empty and trussed behind our back."  He sighed
again heavily and then looked up at Gareth.  His expression changed.

"Major Swales, you have offered me a collection of worn and obsolete
vehicles and weapons at many times their actual value.  I am a
desperate man.  I must accept your offer and the price you demand."

Gareth relaxed slightly and glanced at Jake.

"I must even accept your condition that payment be made in British
sterling."  Gareth smiled now.  "My dear fellow-" he began, but again
the Prince silenced him with a raised hand.

"In turn I impose only one condition.  It is vital to my acceptance of
your offer.  You and your partner, Mr.  Barton, will be responsible for
the delivery of all these weapons into the territory of

Ethiopia.  Payment will be made only when you hand over the shipment to
me or my agent within the borders of his Imperial Majesty, hail

Selassie."

"Good God, man," exploded Gareth.  "that involves smuggling them
through hundreds of miles of hostile territory.  That's ridiculous!"

"Ridiculous, Major Swales?  I think not.  Your merchandise is of no
value to me or to you in Dares Salaam.  I am your only customer nobody
else in the entire world would be foolish enough to buy it from you. On
the other hand, any attempt that I should make to import it into my
homeland would certainly be frustrated.  I am being watched carefully
by agents of all the major powers.  I know I shall be searched the
moment that I land at Jibuti.  Lying here, the merchandise has no
value."  He" paused and glanced from Gareth to Jake.  Jake rubbed his
jaw thoughtfully.

"I see your point, Your Excellency."

"You are a reasonable man, Mr.

Barton," said the Prince, and then returned his attention to Gareth,

and repeated his last statement.  "Lying here it has no value.  In

Ethiopia, it is worth fifteen thousand British sovereigns to you.  The
choice is yours.  Abandon it or get it into Ethiopia."

"I am appalled," said Gareth solemnly, as he paced back and forth.

"I mean, after all the fellow is an old Etonian.

God, I can hardly believe that he would welsh on our agreement.

It's absolutely frightful.  I mean, I trusted him."  Jake was sprawled
on the couch in Madame Cecile's private room.  He had shed his
dinner-jacket, and perched on his knee there was a plump young lady
with a cap of brassy blonde hair.  She was dressed in a flimsy daffodil
coloured dress, the skirts of which had pulled up to show bright blue
garters around her ripe thighs.  Jake was weighing one of her ample
breasts in his hand with all the concentration of a housewife choosing
tomatoes from a greengrocers tray.  The girl giggled and wriggled
provocatively into his lap.

"Damn it, Jake, listen to me.  "I am listening," said Jake.

"The man was positively insulting," protested Gareth, and then seemed
for a moment to lose his concentration as Jake's companion unbuttoned
the bodice of her wispy dress.

"By Jove, Jake, they are rather delicious, what?"  and they both
regarded the display with interest.

"You've got your own, "Jake muttered.

"You're right," agreed Gareth, and turned to the junoesque female who
waited patiently for him on the other couch.

Her glossy black hair was piled upon her head in an elaborate nest of
curls and plaits, and she had large, intense, toffee-coloured eyes in a
face whose paleness was emphasized by the vividly painted crimson lips.
She pouted at Gareth, and draped one arm languidly around his
shoulders.

"Are you sure neither of them understands English?"  Gareth called,

as he entered into the practised embrace of the white arms.

"Portuguese, both of them," Jake assured him.  "But you'd better test
them."

"Very well."  Gareth thought a moment.  "Girls, I must warn you that we
aren't paying for your company not a penny.  This is for love alone."
Neither of their expressions changed, and the enfolding movements of
sinuous limbs continued without pause.

"That settles it," Gareth opined.  "We can talk."

"At a time like this?"

"We've only got until morning to decide what we are going to do."  Jake
made a muffled remark and Gareth admonished him, "I can't hear a
word."

"That gullible old Ethiop of yours has us over a barrel"

repeated Jake with sardonic relish.  Before he could reply, vivid
lips,

pouting and red as ripened fruit, closed over Gareth's.  There was
silence for a while until Gareth wrested himself loose and his head
popped up mustache in disarray and stained with lipstick.

"Jake, what the hell are we going to do?"  And Jake told him in
nautical language which left no room for misunderstanding precisely
what he was about to do.

"don't mean that, I mean what are we going to tell old Toffee tomorrow?
Are we going to deliver the goods?"  Gareth's companion reached up,
took him in a head lock and drew his mouth down again.

"Jake, for God's sake, concentrate on the problem," he pleaded as he
was engulfed.

"I am, I am!"  Jake assured him, rolling his eyes sideways to meet

Gareth's, but without interrupting his efforts with the plump blonde.

"How the hell do we get four armoured cars ashore on a hostile coast,
just for a start then how do we run them two hundred miles to the
Ethiopian border?"  Gareth lamented, speaking out of the unemployed
corner of his mouth, and then something caught his attention.  He
pulled free and raised himself on one elbow.  "I say, your companion
isn't a blonde after all.  Extraordinary."  Jake glanced sideways and
grinned.

"And yours seems to be Scottish she's wearing a sporran, by God."

"Jake, we've got to make a decision.  Do we go or don't we?"

"Action first, decisions later.  Let's engage the targets."

"Right," Gareth agreed, realizing the futility of discussion at this
moment.  "Driver advance."

"Gunner.  Traverse right.  Steady.  On.  Independent rapid fire."

"Shoot!"  cried Gareth, and the conversation languished.

It was half an hour before it was resumed, with the two of them in
shirt sleeves, braces dangling and black ties discarded, poring over a
large-scale map of the East African coast that Madame Cecile had
produced.

"There's a thousand miles of unguarded coast line."  Gareth traced the
great horn of Africa in the light of the Petromax lamp and then ran his
finger inland.  "And this is marked as semi-desert all the way to the
border.  We aren't likely to run into a crowd."

"It's a hell of a way to make a living, "said Jake.

"Are we going then?"  Gareth looked up.

"You know we are."

"Yes," Gareth laughed.  "I know we are.

Fifteen thousand sovereigns say we have to."  ij Mikhael received their
decision with a curt nod and then asked, "Have you planned yet how you
will accomplish this task?  Perhaps I can be of assistance, I know the
coast well and most of the routes to the interior."  He gestured for
one of his advisers to spread a map upon the stateroom table.  Jake ran
his finger across it, as he spoke.

"We thought to hire a shallowdraughted vessel here in Dares

Salaam, and make a landing somewhere in this area.

Then to load the cases on the cars, and, carrying our own fuel,

run directly inland to some prearranged rendezvous with your people."

"Yes," agreed the Prince.  "The basic idea is right.  But I should
avoid British territory.  They maintain a very intensive patrol system
to discourage the export of slaves from their territory to the East.

No, keep clear of British Somaliland.  The French territory is more
suitable."  They plunged into the planning of the expedition, both Jake
and Gareth realizing swiftly how lightly they had discounted the
difficulties that faced them, and how valuable was the Prince's
advice.

"Your landing will be one of the critical stages.  There is a tidal
fall of almost twenty feet on this coast and an unfavorable shelving of
the bottom.  However, at this point about forty miles north of Jibuti
there is an ancient harbour called Month.  It's not marked on the
chart.  It was one of the centres of the slave trade before its
abolition, like Zanzibar and Mozambique Island.  It was stormed and
sacked by a British force in 1842.  The port is without fresh water and
since then it has been deserted.  Yet it has a deep-water channel and a
good approach to the shore.  This would be a suitable place to land the
vehicles an awkward task without good wharfage and overhead cranes."

Gareth was scribbling notes on a sheet of Union Castle notepaper,
while

Jake leaned attentively over the chart.

"What about patrols in this area?"  he asked, and the Prince
shrugged.

"There is a battalion of the Ugion ttrang&e at Jibuti and they send an
occasional camel patrol through this area.

The odds are much against an encounter."

"Those are the kind of odds I like," muttered Gareth.

"Once we are ashore what then?"  The Prince touched the map.

"You should then move parallel with the border of Italian Eritrea - a
southwesterly heading until you encounter the swamp area where the

Awash River sinks into the desert.  Then turn directly westwards and
you will cross the French Somali border and enter the Danakil country
of Ethiopia.  I will arrange to meet your column here-" He turned to
his group of elderly advisers and asked a question.  Immediately an
animated and high-volume discussion broke out, at the end of which
the

Prince turned back to them with a smile.

"We seem to be in general agreement that the rendezvous should be at
the Wells of Chaldi here."  He showed them the map again.  "As you can
see, it is well within Ethiopian territory.  This will suit my

Government as well for the cars will be used in the defence of the

Sardi Gorge and the road to Dessie in the event of an Italian offensive
in that direction-" The Prince was interrupted by one of his advisers
and he listened for a few minutes before nodding in agreement and
turning back to the two white men.  "It has been suggested that as your
journey from Month to the Wells of Chaldi will be through trackless
desert country some areas of which would be impassable to wheeled
vehicles we should provide you with a guide who knows the area-"

"That's more like it, "Jake growled with relief.

"That's absolutely splendid, Toffee," agreed Gareth.

"Very well.  The young man I have chosen is a relative of mine, a
nephew.  He speaks English well, having also spent three years at
school in England, and he knows the area through which you will be
travelling, as he has often hunted the lion there as a guest of a chief
in French territory."  He spoke to one of the advisers in Amharic, and
the man nodded and left the cabin.  "I have sent for him now.  His name
is Gregorius Maryam."  When he came, Gregorius was a young man probably
in his early twenties.  However, he was almost as tall as his uncle
with the warrior's fierce dark eyes and eagle features but his skin was
smooth and hairless as a girl's, the colour of pale honey.  He also was
dressed in Western European fashion, and his expression was intense and
intelligent.

His uncle spoke to him quietly in Amharic and he nodded, then turned to
meet Jake and Gareth.

"My uncle has explained what is required of me and I am honoured to be
of service."  Gregorius's voice was clear and eager.

"Can you drive a motor car?"  Jake asked unexpectedly, and

Gregorius smiled and nodded.

"Indeed, sir.  I have my own Morgan sports car in Addis Ababa."

"That's great."  Jake returned the smile.  "But you'll find an armoured
car a rougher ride."

"Gregorius will pack what he needs for the journey, and join you
immediately.  As you know, this ship sails at noon," observed the
Prince, and the young Ethiopian nobleman bowed to his uncle and left
the cabin.

"You now owe me a favour, Major Swales, and I request repayment
immediately."  Lij Mikhael turned back to Gareth, whose complacency
evaporated immediately, to be replaced by an expression of mild
alarm.

Gareth had developed a healthy respect for the Prince's ability to
drive a bargain.

"Now listen here, old chap-" he began to protest, but the Prince went
on as though there had been no interruption.

"One of the few weapons that my country has to exploit is the
conscience of the civilized world-"

"I wouldn't give you much change for that," observed Jake.

"No," agreed the Prince sadly.  "Not a very effective weapon as yet.
But if we can only inform the world of the injustices and unprovoked
aggression which we suffer then we can force the democratic nations to
come to our support.

We need popular support we must reach the people.  If the common
peoples are informed of our lot, they will force their own governments
to take action."

"It's a pretty thought," Gareth agreed.

"Travelling with me now is one of the most highly thought of and
influential journalists in America.  Someone who has the ear of
hundreds of thousands of readers across the United States of America,

and the rest of the English-speaking world as well.  A person of
liberal conscience, a champion of the oppressed."  The Prince paused.
"However,

this person's reputation has preceded us.  The Italians realize that
their case might be damaged if the truth is written by a journalist of
this calibre and they have taken measures to prevent this happening.

We have today heard by radio that transit of English, French and

Italian territories will be refused, and' that this ally of ours will
be denied access to Ethiopia.  They do not only embargo weapons but
they prevent our friends from giving us succour."

"No," said Gareth.  "I've got enough trouble that I must act as a taxi
service for the entire press corps of the world.

I'll be damned if I will-"

"Can he drive a motor car?  "Jake interrupted "We are still short of a
driver for the last car."

"If I

know journalists, all he can drive is a whisky bottle," grunted Gareth
gloomily.

"If he can drive we'd save the wages of hiring another driver,"

Jake pointed out, and Gareth's gloom lightened a little.

"That's true if he can drive."

"Let us find out," suggested the

Prince, and spoke quietly to one of his men who slipped out of the
cabin.  Gareth took advantage of the pause to take the Prince's arm and
draw him aside from the main group.

"I have drawn up an estimate of the additional expenses we will
encounter the hire of a ship and that sort of thing it stretches the
old finances.  I wonder if you could see your way clear to making a
gesture of good faith just a small advance.  A few hundred guineas."

"Major Swales, I have made the gesture already by giving my nephew into
your care."

"Not that I don't appreciate that-" Gareth was about to enlarge his
argument, but he was prevented from doing so by the opening of the
cabin door and the entry of the journalist.  Gareth Swales straightened
up and touched the knot of his tie.  His smile broke across the cabin
like the early morning sun.

Jake Barton had slumped down into one of the chairs beside the chart
table and was about to light a cheroot, the match flaring in the cup of
his hands, but he did not complete the movement.  The match burned on
forgotten, as he stared at the newcomer.

"Gentlemen," said the Prince.  "I have the honour to introduce

Miss Victoria Camberwell, a distinguished member of the American press
and a good friend of my country."  Vicky Camberwell was not yet thirty
years of age, and she was also an unusually attractive and nubile young
woman.  She had learned long ago that youth and feminine beauty were
not assets in her chosen career and she tried, with little success, to
disguise both.

She adopted a severe, almost mannish, dress.  A military-style shirt
with cloth epaulets and button-down breast pockets that were pushed out
by the large but shapely breasts.  Her skirt was tailored in the same
cream linen with more button down pockets on the thighs, and clasped at
the slim waist with a leather belt and heavy snake's buckle.

Her shoes were of the lace-up type that women call "sensible."

On her long lovely legs they looked almost frivolous.

Her hair was drawn severely back to expose a long swan neck.  The hair
was fine and silken, sun-bleached, in places, almost white and shaded
over her high broad forehead to the colour of wheat and autumn
leaves.

Gareth recovered first.  "Miss Camberwell, of course.  I know your
work.  Your column is syndicated in the Observer."  She looked at him
without expression, remarkably immune to the celebrated Swales smile.

Her eyes, he noticed, were serious and level, sage green in colour, but
shot with speckles of tawny gold.

Jake's match burned his fingers and he swore.  She turned to him and he
stood up quickly.

"I didn't expect a woman."

"You don't like women?"  Her voice was pitched low and had a husky tone
that raised goose bumps on Jake's forearms.

"Some of my favourite people are women."  He saw that she was tall,
reaching almost to his shoulder, and that her body had a poised
athletic carriage.  She held her head at a haughty angle which
emphasized the strong independent line of mouth and jaw.

"In fact, I can't think of anyone I like more."  And she smiled for the
first time.  It had surprising warmth, and Jake saw that her front
teeth were slightly uneven one pushed out of line with the other.  He
stared at it fascinated for a moment, then he looked up into the
appraising green eyes.

"Do you drive a car?"  he asked seriously, and her smile turned to
surprised laughter.

"I do."  said Vicky, laughing.  "I also ride a horse and a bicycle,

I can ski, pilot an aeroplane, play snooker and bridge, sing, dance and
play the piano."

"That will do," Jake laughed with her.  "That will do just fine." Vicky
turned back to the Prince.  "What is all this about,

Lij Mikhael?"  she asked.  "Just what do these two gentlemen have to do
with our plans?"  The towering purple hull of the Dunnottar Castle
swung slowly across the back-drop of palm trees and the high sun-gilded
ranges of cumulus cloud, as she pulled her anchors and came around for
the harbour entrance.

At the rail of the upper deck, the tall figure of the Prince was
flanked by the white-robed figures of his staff, and as the ship
increased speed and kicked up a white sparkling bow wave, he lifted an
arm in a gesture of farewell.

Swiftly, the shape of the liner dwindled away into the limitless
eastern ocean as she made her offing before turning northwards once
more.

The four figures on the wharf lingered after it had disappeared,

staring out at the horizon whose long sweep was uninterrupted except by
the tiny white triangular sails of the fishing fleet coming in off the
banks.

Jake spoke first.  "We'll have to find digs for Miss Camberwell.  And
at the thought, both he and Gareth made a grab for her single battered
portmanteau and the typewriter in its leather case.

"Spin you for it," suggested Gareth, and an East African shilling
appeared in his hand.

"Tails,"decided Jake.

"Rough luck, old son," Gareth commiserated, and returned the coin to
his pocket.  "I'll take care of Miss Camberwell-" he went on, " then
I'll start looking for a ship to take us up coast.  In the meantime, I
suggest you have another look at those cars."  As he spoke,

he hailed a ricksha from the row which waited at the head of the
wharf.

"Remember, Jake, it was one thing driving them down to the harbour but
an altogether different matter driving them through two hundred miles
of desert.  You'd best make sure we don't have to walk home, he
advised, and handed Vicky Camberwell into the ricksha.  "Driver,

advance!"  he called, and with a cheery wave they jogged away up
town.

"It looks as though we are on our own, sir," said Gregorius, and

Jake grunted, still staring after the departing ricksha.  "I think I

should also find accommodation," and Jake roused himself.

"Come along, lad.  You can doss down in my tent for the few days before
we leave."  And then he grinned.  "I hope you won't be offended if I
wish it was Miss Camberwell rather than you, Greg."  The boy laughed
delightedly.  "I understand your feelings but perhaps she snores,
sir."

"No girl who looks like that could possibly snore," Jake told him. "And
another thing don't call me "sir", it makes me nervous.  My name's
Jake."  He picked up one of Greg's bags.  "We'll walk," he said.  "I
have a horrible hollow feeling that it's going to be a long weary wait
until next the eagle screams."  They set off along the dusty unpaved
verge of the road.

"You said you own a Morgan?  "Jake asked.

"That's right, Jake."  you know what makes it move?"

"The internal combustion engine."

"Oh brother," applauded Jake.  "That is a flying start.  You have just
been appointed second engineer get your sleeves rolled up."  Gareth
Swales had a theory about seduction which in twenty years he had never
had reason to revise.

ladies liked the company of aristocrats, they were all of them
basically snobs and a coat of arms usually made the coldest of them
swoon.  No sooner had they settled into the padded seats of the
ricksha, than he turned upon Vicky Camberwell the full dazzling beam of
his wit and charm.

No one who had built up an international reputation in the hard field
of journalism by the age of twenty-nine could be expected to lack
perception, or be naive in the wicked ways of the world.  Vicky

Camberwell had made a preliminary judgement of Gareth within minutes of
meeting him.

She had known others with the same urbane good looks and meticulous
grooming, the light bantering tone and the steely glint in the eye.
Rogue, she had decided and every second in his company confirmed the
initial judgement but damned good-looking rogue, and very funny rogue
with the exaggerated accent and turn of speech which she had recognized
immediately as a huge put-on.  She listened with amusement as he set
out to impress with his lineage.

"As the colonel used to say we always referred to my old man as the
colonel."  Gareth's father had indeed died a colonel, but not in an
illustrious regiment, as the rank suggested.  He had worked his way up
from the lowly rank of constable in the Indian police.

"Of course, the family estates were from my mother's side-" His mother.
had been the only daughter of an unsuccessful baker, and the family
estate had comprised the mortgaged premises in Swansea.

"The colonel was always a bit of a rogue, and moved with a wild crowd,
you know.  Fast ladies and slow horses.  The estates went to the block,
I'm afraid."  Victims themselves of the grinding injustices of the
British class system, mother and father had devoted themselves to
lifting their only son beyond that invisible barrier that divides the
middle from the upper classes.

"Of course, I was at Eton and he was mostly on foreign service.

Wish I'd got to know the old devil better.  He must have been a
wonderful character-" Entrance to the school had been assisted by the

Commissioner of Police, himself an old Etonian.  The mother's small
inheritance and the greater part of the father's salary went into the
costly business of turning the son into a gentleman.

"Killed in a duel, would you believe it.  Pistols at dawn.

He was a romantic, too much fire in his veins."  When the cholera took
the mother, the father's salary was insufficient to meet the bills that
a young man casually ran up when he mixed sociably with the sons of
dukes.  In India, bribery was a convention, a way of living but the
colonel was found out.  It was indeed pistols at dawn.  The colonel
rode out into the dark Indian forest with his Webley service pistol,
and his bay mare trotted back to the stables an hour later with an
empty saddle and the reins trailing.

"Had to leave Eton, naturally."  Under considerable duress.

It was coincidence that Gareth's friendship with the house master's
daughter took place at the same time as the colonel's last ride, but at
least it allowed Gareth to leave in a blaze of glory, as

Lij Mikhael remarked, rather than as a nobody whose fees had not been
met.

He went out into the world with the speech, the manners and the tastes
of a gentleman but without the means to support them.

"Luckily they were having this war at the time " and even a regiment
like the Duke's were not enquiring too deeply into the private means of
their new officers.  Eton was sufficient recommendation, and,

with the help of the German machine guns, promotion was swift.

However, after the armistice, things were back to normal and it
required three thousand a year for an officer to support himself in the
style the regiment expected.  Gareth moved on, and had kept moving ever
since.

Vicky Camberwell listened to him, fascinated despite herself She knew
that this was the cobra dance before the chicken, she knew herself well
enough to realize that part of the attraction he held for her was the
very devilry and roguishness she had so readily recognized.

There had been others like this one.  Her job took her to the trouble
spots of the world, and men of this breed were attracted to the same
hot spots.  With these men there was always the excitement and danger,
the thrill and the fun but inevitably there was also the sting and the
pain in the end.

She tried not to respond, wishing the ride would end, but Gareth's
sallies were too much for her and as the ricksha drew up in front of
the Royal Hotel entrance, she could not resist the almost suffocating
urge to laugh.  She threw back her head, shaking her shining pale hair
in the wind as she let it ring out.

Gareth had learned also to use the calibre of a woman's laughter as a
yardstick.  Vicky laughed with an unaffected gaiety, a straightforward
physical response that he found reassuring, and he took her arm
possessively as he helped her out of the ricksha.

He showed her through the royal suite with a proprietorial air.

"Only one suite in the place.  Balcony looks out over the gardens, and
you get the sea breeze in the evening."  And, "Only private loo in the
building, even one of those French jobs for sluicing the old
privates,

you know."  And, "The bed is quite extraordinary, like sleeping on a
cloud and all that rot.  Never experienced anything like it."

"Is this where I am to stay?"  Vicky asked, with a small-girl
innocence.

"Well, I thought we could make some sort of arrangement, old girl." And
she was left with no doubts as to the type of arrangement Gareth Swales
had in mind.

"You are very kind, major," she murmured, and crossed to the handset of
the telephone.

"This is Miss Camberwell.  Major Swales is vacating the royal suite for
me.  Please have a servant move his clothes to alternative
accommodation."

"I say-" gasped Gareth, and she covered the mouthpiece and smiled at
him.  "It's so sweet of you."  Then she listened to the manager's
voice.  "Oh dear," she said.  "Well, if that's the only room you have
vacant, it will just have to do then, I am sure the major has
experienced more uncomfortable billets."  When Gareth saw the room that
was now his, he tried honestly to remember humbler and less comfortable
billets.

The Chinese prison in Mukden had been cooler and not placed directly
over the boisterous uproar of the public bar, and the front line dugout
during the winter of 1917 at Arras had been more spacious and better
furnished.

The next three days Gareth Swales spent at the harbour, drinking tea
and whisky in the office of the harbour master, riding out with the
pilot to meet every new vessel as it crossed the bar, jogging in a
ricksha along the wharf to speak with the skippers of dhows and

Tuggers, rusty old coal-burners and neater, newer oil, burners, or
rowing about the harbour in a hired ferry to hail the vessels that lay
at anchor in the roads.

His evenings he spent plying Victoria Camberwell with charm,

flattery and vintage champagne for all of which she seemed to have an
insatiable appetite and complete immunity.  She listened to him,
laughed with him and drank his champagne, and at midnight excused
herself prettily, and nimbly side-stepped his efforts to press her to
his snowy shirt-front or get a foot in the door of the royal suite.

By the morning of the fourth day, Gareth was understandably becoming a
little discouraged.  He thought of taking a bucket of Tusker out to
Jake's camp and cheering himself up with a little of the American's
genial company.

However, he did not relish having to admit failure to Jake, SO he
fought off the temptation and took his usual ricksha ride down to the
harbour.

During the night a new vessel had anchored in the outer roads and

Gareth examined her through his binoculars.  She was salt-fir ned and
dirty, (Id and scarred with a dark nondescript hull and a ragged
crew,

but Gareth saw that her rigging was sound and that although she was
schooner rigged with masts which could spread a mass of canvas, yet she
had propeller drive at the stern probably she had been converted to
take a diesel engine under the high poop.  She looked the most likely
prospect he had yet seen in the harbour and Gareth ran down the steps
to the ferry and exuberantly tipped the oarsman a shilling over his
usual fare.

At closer range the vessel seemed even more disreputable than she had
at a distance.  The paintwork proved to be a mottled patchwork of layer
peeling from layer, and it was clear what the sanitary arrangements
were aboard.  The sides were zebra-striped with human excrement.

Yet closer still, Gareth noticed that the planking was tight and sound
beneath the execrable paint cover, and her bottom, seen through the
clear water, was clean copper and free of the usual fuzzy green beard
of weed.  Also her rigging was well set up and all sheets had the
bright yellow colour and resilient took of new hemp.  The name on her
stern was in Arabic and French, HirondeUe, and she was Seychelles
registered.

Gareth wondered at her purpose, for she was certainly a ringer,

a thoroughbred masquerading as a cart horse.  That big bronze propeller
would drive her handily, and the hull itself looked fast and
sea-kindly.

Then as he came alongside he smelled her, and knew precisely what she
was.  He had smelled that peculiar odour of polluted bilges and
suffering humanity before in the China Sea.  He had heard it said that
it was an odour that could never be scoured from a hull, not even sheep
dip and boiling salt water would cleanse it.  They said that on a dark
night, the patrol boats could smell a slaver from over the horizon.

A man who made his daily bread buying and selling slaves would be
unlikely to baulk at a mere trifle like gun running decided Gareth, and
hailed her.

"Ahoy, HirondeLle!"  The response was hostile, the closed dark faces of
the ragged crew stared down at the ferry.  They were a mixed batch,
Arab, Indian, Chinese, Negro and there was no answer to his hail.

Standing in the ferry, Gareth cupped his hands to his mouth and,

with the Englishman's unconscious arrogance that assumes all the world
speaks English, called again.

"I want to speak to your captain."  Now there was a stir under the poop
and a white man came to the rail.  He was swarthy, darkly sunburned and
so short that his head barely showed above the gunwale.

"What you want?  You police, hey?"  Gareth guessed he was Greek or

Armenian.  he wore a dark patch over one eye, and the effect was
theatrical.  The good eye was bright and stony as water-washed agate.

"No police!"  Gareth assured him.  "No trouble," and produced the
whisky bottle from his coat pocket and waved it airily.

The Captain leaned out over the rail and peered closely at Gareth.

Perhaps he recognized the twinkle in the eye and the jaunty piratical
smile that Gareth flashed up at him.  It often takes one to know one.

Anyway, he seemed to reach a decision and he snapped an order in

Arabic.  A rope ladder tumbled down the side.

"Come," invited the Captain.  He had nothing to hide.

On this leg of his voyage he carried only a cargo of baled cotton goods
from Bombay.  He would discharge this here at Dares Salaam before
continuing northwards to make a nocturnal landfall on the great horn of
Africa, there to take on his more lucrative cargo of human wares.

As long as the merchants of Arabia, India and the East still offered
huge sums for the slender black girls of the Danakil and Galla,

men like this would brave the British warships and patrol boats to
supply them.

"I thought we might drink a little whisky together and talk about
money," Gareth greeted the Captain.  "My name is Swales.  Major

Swales."  The Captain had trained his oiled black hair into a queue
that hung down his back.  He seemed to cultivate the buccaneer image.

"My name is Papadopoulos."  He grinned for the first time.

"And the talk of money is sweet like music."  He held out his hand.

Gareth and Vicky Camberwell came to Jake's camp in the mahogany forest,
bearing gifts.

"This is a surprise," Jake greeted them sardonically as he straightened
up from the welding set with the torch still flaring in his hand.  "I
thought you two had eloped."

"Business first, pleasure later."  Gareth handed Vicky down from the
ricksha.  "No, my dear Jake, we have been working hard."  J can see
that.  You look really worn out with your labours."  Jake doused the
welding torch and accepted the bucket of Tusker beer.  He broached two
bottles -immediately, handing one to Greg and lifting the other to his
own lips.  He wore only a pair of greasy khaki shorts.

When he lowered it, he grinned.  "But, what the hell, I was dying of
thirst and so I forgive you."

"You have saved our lives, Major

Swales and Miss Camberwell," agreed Greg, and saluted them with the de
wed bottle.

"What on earth is this?"  Gareth turned to inspect the massive
construction on which Jake and Greg had been working, and Jake patted
it proudly.

"It's a raft."  He circled the complicated platform of empty oil drums
with its decking of timber slats, indicating its finer features with
the half-empty beer bottle.

"Armoured cars don't swim, and we have to land them on a shelving
beach.  It's unlikely we will be able to get within a hundred yards of
the shore.  We'll float them off."  Vicky was looking at the fine
muscling of Jake's shoulders and arms, at the flat belly and the dark
pelt of hair that covered his chest, but Gareth was fascinated by the
crudely constructed raft.

"I was going to talk to you about landing the cars, and suggest
something like this," Gareth said, and Jake lifted an eyebrow at him in
disbelief.

"All we must make sure of is that the vessel that lands us has a
derrick strong enough to swing the cars outboard."

"What do they weigh?"

"Five tons each."

"Fine, the HirondeUe can handle that."

"The Hirondelle?"

"The vessel that's transporting us."

"So you have been working."

Jake laughed.  "I would never have believed it of you.  When do we
sail?"

"Dawn, the day after tomorrow.  We will load during the night not
wanting to advertise our cargo and we will sail at first light."

"That doesn't give me much time to teach Miss Camberwell to drive one
of the cars."  Jake turned to her now, and once again felt the thrill
of looking into those speckled eyes of green and gold.  "I'm going to
need a deal of your time."

"That's one thing I've got plenty of at the moment."  For Vicky the
interlude in Dares Salaam had served to rest her tired and strained
nerves.  her previous assignment at Geneva had been irksome and
wearying.  She had spent the last few days exploring the ancient port
and writing a two-thousand-word filler on its origins and history.  She
had enjoyed Gareth Swales's attentions and the by-play of avoiding his
more serious advances.  Now she was becoming aware of Jake

Barton's smouldering admiration.  Nothing like being pursued by two
tough, dangerous and forceful males to relax a girl, she thought, and
smiled at Jake, enjoying his reaction, and watching Gareth Swales
bridle and move in to intervene.

"I can give Vicky a bit of instruction on the jolly old machines, don't
want to take you off important work."  Vicky did not turn her head, but
went on smiling at Jake.

"I think that's rather Mr.  Barton's department," she said.

"Jake," said Jake.

"Vicky," said Vicky.

This whole business was turning out very well indeed.  A good story to
chase, a worthy cause to support, another daring escapade to add to the
blooming lustre of her reputation.  She knew none of her colleagues had
dared the League's sanctions and violated international frontiers with
a gang of gun-runners to file a story.

As a bonus, there were two attractive males for company, It all looked
very good indeed, just as long as she kept it all on a manageable
basis, and did not let her emotions get into an uproar once more.

They followed the path down through the mahogany forest, and she smiled
secretly to herself as she watched Gareth and Jake jockeying for
position beside her.  However, when they reached the clearing, Gareth
stopped abruptly.

"What now?  "he demanded.

"The paint job is Greg's idea," explained Jake.  "Make people think
twice before they start shooting at us."  The four vehicles were now
painted a glistening snowy white, and the turrets were emblazoned with
a flaming scarlet cross.

"if the French or the Italians try to stop us, we are a unit of
armoured ambulances of the International Red Cross.

You, Greg and I are doctors, and Vicky is a nursing sister."

"My

God, you have been busy."  Vicky was impressed.

"Also the white paint will be cooler in the desert," Greg explained
seriously.  "They call it the "Great Burn" with good reason."

"The carrying racks I designed," said Jake.  "Each vehicle will be able
to carry two forty-gallon drums of gasoline and one of water at the
rear of the turret.  The crates of arms and ammunition we will
distribute between the four of them and rope them down here across the
sponsons, - I have welded cleats here to take the ropes."

"The crates will be a dead giveaway," objected Gareth.

"They are all marked-"

"We'll plane off the marking and re-label them as medical supplies,
"Jake told him, then took Vicky's arm.  "I've chosen this one for you.
She's the most docile and friendly of the four."

"Do they have characters of their own?"  Vicky teased him, and laughed
at the seriousness of his reply.

"They are just like women.  My iron ladies," he slapped the nearest
machine.  "This one is an absolute darling except that her rear
suspension is slightly out of alignment, so she waggles her bottom a
bit at speed.  It's nothing serious, however, but it's why her name
is

Miss Wobbly.  She's yours.

You'll grow to love her.  "Jake walked on and kicked the tyre of the
next car.  "This one is the bitch of the party.  She tried to break my
wrist the very first time I ever cranked her.  She is known as

Priscilla the Pig.  I'm the only one who can handle her.  She doesn't
love me, but she respects me."  He moved on.  "Greg has chosen this one
and called her Tenastelin which means "God is with us" - I hope he is
right, but I doubt it.  Greg is a bit funny about that sort of thing.

He tells me he was going to be a priest once."  He winked at the
youngster.  "Gareth, this one is yours she has a brand new carburettor.
I think it is only fair you should enjoy her, since you are the one who
risked all to obtain it."

"Oh?"  Vicky's eyes lit with interest, the news-hound in her aroused.
"What happened?"

"It's a long story," Jake grinned, "but it involved a long and
dangerous ride on a camel.  "Gareth choked on a lungful of cheroot
smoke and coughed, but

Jake went on remorselessly, "She shall therefore be known in future
as

Henrietta the Hump the Hump for short."

"How very cute," said Vicky.

After midnight the four vehicles moved in column through the dark and
sleeping streets of the old town.  The steel shutters were closed down
over the headlights so that only a narrow strip of light was thrown
forwards and downwards.  The engines were idling as they moved at
walking speed under the trees whose spread branches hung over the road
and hid the stars.

The cars were heavily loaded.  the burden that each of them carried
were drums and crate st coils of rope and netting,

trenching tools and camping equipment.

Gareth Swales led the column, freshly shaven and dressed in grey
flannel Oxford bags and a white jersey with the I Zingari cricket
colours adorning the neck and cuffs.  He was mildly concerned that the
proprietor of the Royal Hotel might become aware of his imminent
departure, for there was a bill for three weeks" board outstanding and
a formidable pile of unpaid chit ties signed with the Swales flourish
for champagne supplied.  Gareth would definitely feel happier out at
sea.

Gregorius Maryam followed him closely.  His hereditary title was

Gerazinach, "Commander of the Left Wing', and his warrior blood coursed
through his veins mingling with the deeply religious Old Testament
teachings of the Coptic Christian Church, so that his eyes shone with
an almost mystic fanaticism and his heart soared with a young man's
fierce patriotism, for he was still young enough and inexperienced
enough to look on the dirty bloody business of war as something
glamorous and manly.

Behind him came Vicky Camberwell, driving Miss Wobbly with competence
and precision.  Jake was delighted with her ability to judge the engine
beat, and to mesh the ancient gears with a light touch on clutch and
stick.  She too was excited by the prospect of adventure,

and new experience.  That afternoon she had filed her preliminary
report

, despatching five thousand words by the new airmail service that would
deposit them on her editor's desk in New York within ten days.

She had explained the background, the clear intent of Benito Mussolini
to annex the sovereign territories of Ethiopia, the world's
indifference, the arms embargo.  "Do not delude yourselves" she had
written, "into the belief that I am crying wolf.  The wolf of Rome is
already hunting.

What is about to happen in the mountains of northern Africa will shame
the civilized world."  And then she had gone on to expose the intention
of the great nations to prevent her reaching the embattled empire and
reporting its plight.  She had ended the despatch, "Your correspondent
has rejected this restriction placed upon her movements and her
integrity.  Tonight

I have joined a group of intrepid men who are risking their lives to
defy the embargo, and to carry through the closed territories a
quantity of arms and supplies desperately needed by the beleaguered
nation.  By the time you read this, we shall have failed and have died
upon the desert coast of Africa, which the natives fearfully call the

"Great Burn" or we shall have succeeded.  We shall have landed by night
from a small coasting vessel and trekked through hundreds of miles of
savage and hostile territory to a meeting with an Ethiopian prince.  I
hope that in my next despatch, I shall be able to describe our journey
to you, but if the gods of chance decree otherwise at least we shall
have tried."  Vicky was very pleased with the first article.  In her
usual flamboyant style, she particularly liked the

"trekking" bit which gave a touch of local colour.  It had
everything:

drama, mystery, the little guy taking on the big.

She knew that the completed series would be a giant and she was excited
and aglow with anticipation.

Behind her Jake Barton followed.  He listened with half his attention
to the engine beat of the Pig.  For no apparent reason,

except perhaps a premonition of what awaited her, the car had that
night refused to start.  Jake had cranked her until his arm was cramped
and aching.  He had blown through the fuel system, checked the plugs,

magneto and every other moving part that could possibly be at fault.

Then, after another hour of tinkering, she had started and run sweetly,
without giving the slightest hint of what had prevented her doing so
earlier.

With the other half of his attention, he was mentally in the mountains
checking out his preparations knowing that this was his last chance to
fill any gaps in his list.  It was one hell of a long trail from Month
to the Wells of Chaldi and not many service stations on the road.  The
pontoon raft of drums had been stowed aboard the HirondeUe that
afternoon, and each car carried its own means of sustenance and
survival a load which taxed their ancient suspensions and body work

Thus Jake's conscious mind was fully occupied, but below that level was
a gut memory that tightened his nerves and charged his blood with
adrenaline There had been another night like this, moving in column in
the darkness, with the throttled-back engine beat drumming softly in
his ears but then there had been the glow of star shell in the sky
ahead, the distant juddering of a Maxim firing at a gap in the wire and
the smell of death and mud in his nostrils.  Unlike Gregorius

Maryam in the car ahead, Jake Barton knew about war and all its
glories.

apadopoulos was waiting for them on the wharf, carrying a hurricane
lamp and dressed in an ankle, length greatcoat that gave him the air of
a down-at, heel gnome.  He signalled the column forward,

waving the lamp, and his ragged crew swarmed off the deck of the

Hirondelle on to the stone wharf.

It was clear that they were accustomed to loading unusual cargo in the
middle of the night.  As each car was driven forward, it was stripped
of its burden of drums and crates.

These were stowed separately in cargo nets.  Then they thrust sturdy
wooden pallets under the chassis of the car and fixed the heavy hemp
lines.  At a signal from Papadopoulos, the men at the winches started
the donkey engines and the lines ran through the blocks on the booms of
the derricks.

The bulky cars rose slowly and then swung inboard.

The whole operation was carried out swiftly, with no raised voices or
unnecessary noise.  Only a muttered command, the grunt of straining
men, the muted clatter of the donkey engines and then the thump of the
cars settling on the deck.

"These fellows know their business."  Gareth watched approvingly,

then turned to Jake.  "I'll go down to the.

harbour master and clear the bills of lading.  We'll be ready to sail
in an hour or so."  He sauntered away and disappeared into the
shadows.

"Let's inspect the accommodation," Jake suggested, and took

Vicky's arm.  "It looks like a regular Cunarder."  They climbed the
gangplank to the deck and only then did they get the first whiff of the
slave stench.  By the time Gareth returned from his nefarious
negotiations with bills of lading showing a consignment of four
ambulances and medical supplies to the International Red Cross

Association at Alexandria, the others had made a brief examination of
the single tiny odoriferous cabin which Papadopoulos had put at their
disposal and decided to leave it to the cockroaches and bed bugs which
were already in residence.

"It's only a few days" sailing.  I think I prefer the open deck.

If it rains, we can take shelter in the cars."  Jake spoke for all of
them as they stood in a group at the rail, watching the lights of Dares
Salaam glide away into the night, while the diesel engine of the
schooner thumped under their feet and the sweet cool sea breeze washed
over the deck, cleansing their nostrils and mouths of the slave
stench.

Vicky was awakened by the brilliance of the starlight shining into her
face and she opened her eyes and stared up at a sky that blazed with
the splendours Of the universe, as fields and seas of pearly light
swirled across the heavens.

Quietly she slipped out of her blankets and went to the ship's rail.
The sea was lustrous glittering sable; each wave seemed to be carved
from some solid and precious metal, bejewelled by the reflections of
the starlight and through it the ship's wake glowed with
phosphorescence like a trail of green fire.

The sea wind was the touch of lovers" hands against her skin and in her
hair, the great mainsail whispered above her head, and there was an
almost physical ache in her chest at the beauty of this night.

When Gareth came up silently behind her and slipped his arms about her
waist, she did not even turn her head, but lay back against him.

She did not want to argue and tease.  As she herself had written, she
might soon be dead and the night was too beautiful to let it pass.

Neither of them spoke, but Vicky sighed and shuddered voluptuously as
she felt his hands, smooth and skilful, slide up under the light cotton
blouse.  His touch, like the wind, was softly caressing.

Through their thin clothing she could feel the warmth and resilience of
his flesh pressed against her, feel his chest surge and subside to the
urgency of his breathing.

She turned slowly within the circle of his arms and lifted her face to
his as he stooped, meeting his body with a forward thrust of her hips.
The taste of his mouth and the musky male smell of his body hastened
her own arousal.

It took all her determination to tear her lips loose from his, and to
draw away from his embrace.  She crossed quickly to where her blankets
lay and picked them up with hands that shook.

She spread them again between the dark supine forms of Jake and

Gregorius, and only when she rolled herself into their coarse folds and
lay upon her back trying to control her ragged breathing was she aware
that Jake Barton was awake.

His eyes were closed and his breathing was deep and even, but she knew
with complete certainty that he was awake.

eneral Emilio De Bono stood at the window of his office and looked
across the squalid roofs of the town of Asmara towards the great
brooding massif of the Ethiopian highlands.  It looked like the
backbone of a dragon, he thought, and suppressed a shudder.

The General was seventy years of age, so he recalled vividly the last
Italian army that had ventured into that mountain fastness.  The name
Adowa was a dark blot on the history of Italian arms, and after forty
years, that terrible bloody defeat of a modern European army was still
unavenged.

Now destiny had chosen him as the avenger and Emilio De Bono was not
certain that the role suited him.  It would be much more to his liking
if wars could be fought without anybody getting hurt.  The

General would go to great lengths to avoid inflicting pain or even
discomfort.  Orders that might be distasteful.  to the recipient were
avoided.  Operations that might place anybody in jeopardy were frowned
upon severely by the commanding General and his officers had learned
not to suggest such extravagances.

The General was at heart a diplomat and a politician not a warrior.  He
liked to see smiling faces, so he smiled a great deal himself.  He
resembled a sprightly, wizened little goat, with the pointed white
beard that gave him the nickname of "Little Beard'.  And he addressed
his officers as

"Caro', and his men as "Bambino'.  He just wanted to be loved.  So he
smiled and smiled.

However, the General was not smiling now.  This morning he had received
from Rome another one of those importunate coded telegrams signed
Benito Mussolini.  The wording had been even more peremptory than
usual.  "The King of Italy wishes, and I, Benito Mussolini,

Minister of the armed forces, order that-" Suddenly he struck himself a
blow on his medal-bedecked chest which startled Captain Crespi, his
aide-decamp.

"They do not understand," cried De Bono bitterly.  "It is all very
beautiful to sit in Rome and urge haste.  To cry "Strike!"  But they do
not see the picture as we do, who stand here looking across the Mareb

River at the swarming multitudes of the enemy."  The Captain came to
the

General's side and he also stared out of the window.  The building that
housed the expeditionary army headquarters in Asmara was double
storied

and the General's office on the top floor commanded a sweeping view to
the foot of the mountains.  The Captain observed wryly that the
swarming multitudes were not readily apparent.  The land was a vast
emptiness slumbering in the brilliant sunlight.  Air reconnaissance in
depth had descried no concentrations of Ethiopian troops, and reliable
intelligence reported that the Emperor Baile Selassie had ordered that
none of his rudimentary military units approach the border as close as
fifty kilometres, to avoid giving the Italians an excuse to march.

"They do not understand that I must consolidate my position here in
Eritrea.  That I must have a firm base and supply train," cried De

Bono pitifully.  For over a year he had been consolidating his position
and assembling his supplies.

The crude little harbour of Massawa, which once had lazily served the
needs of an occasional tramp steamer or one of the little Japanese
salt-traders, had been reconstructed completely.  Magnificent stone
piers ran out into the sea, great wharves bustled with steam cranes,

and busy locomotives shuttled the incredible array of warlike stores
that poured ashore by the thousands of tons a day for month after
month.  The Suez Canal remained open to the transports of the Italian
adventure, and a constant stream of them poured southwards, unaffected
by the embargo that the League of Nations had declared on the
importation of military materials into Eastern Africa.

Up to the present time, over three million tons of stores had been
landed, and this did not include the five thousand vehicles of war
troop transports, armoured cars, tanks and aircraft that had come
ashore.  To distribute this vast assembly of vehicles and stores, a
road system had been constructed fanning into the interior, a system so
magnificent as to recall that of the Caesars of ancient Rome.

General De Bono smote his chest again, startling his aide.  "They urge
me to untimely endeavour.  They do not seem to realize that my "

force is insufficient."  The force which the General lamented was the
greatest and most powerful army ever assembled on the African
continent.  He commanded three hundred and sixty thousand men, armed
with the most sophisticated tools of destruction the world had yet
devised from the Caproni CA.133 three-engined monoplane which could
carry two tons of high explosive and poison gas a range of nine hundred
miles, to the most modern armoured cars and heavily armoured CV.3 tanks
with their 50 men.  guns, and supporting units of heavy artillery.

This great assembly was encamped about Asmara and upon the cliffs
overlooking the Mareb River.  It was made up of distinct elements, the
green-clad regular army formations with their wide-brimmed tropical
helmets, the black shirt r Fascist militia with their high boots and
cross-straps, their deaths head and thunderbolt badges and their
glittering daggers, the regular colonial units of black Somalis and
Eritreans in their tall tasselled red fezes and baggy shirts, their
gaily coloured regimental sashes and put teed legs above bare feet.
Lastly, the irregular volunteers or ban da who were a. group of desert
bandits and cut-throat cattle thieves attracted by the possibility of
war in the way that the taint of blood gathers sharks.

De Bono knew but did not ponder the fact that nearly seventy years
previously, the British General Napier had marched on Magdala with less
than fifty thousand men, meeting and defeating the entire Ethiopian
army on the way, storming the mountain fortress and releasing the

British prisoners held there, before retiring in good order.

Such heroics were outside the realms of the General's imagination.

"Caro."

"The General placed an arm about the gold, braided shoulders of his
aide.  "We must compose a reply to the Duce.  He must be made to
realize my difficulties."  He patted the shoulder affectionately and
his face lightened once more into its habitual expression as he began
composing.

"My dear and respected leader, please be assured of my loyalty to you
and to the glorious fatherland of Italy."  The Captain hastened to take
up a message pad and scribble industriously.  "Be assured also that I
never cease to toil by night and by day towards--" It took almost two
hours of creative effort before the General was satisfied with his
flowery and rambling refusal to carry out his orders.

"Now," he ceased his pacing and smiled tenderly at the Captain,

"although we are not yet ready for an advance in force, it will serve
to placate Il Duce if we initiate the opening phases of the southern
offensive."

The General's plans for the invasion, when it was finally put in hand,
had been laid with as ponderous regard to detail as his earlier
preparations.  Historical necessity dictated that the main attack
should be centred on Adowa.

Already a marble monument, brought from Italy and engraved with the
words "The dead of Adowa avenged with the date left open, lay amongst
the huge mountains of his stores.

ndary flanking attack However, the plan called for a secc, farther
south through one of the very few gateways to the central highlands,

This was the Sardi Gorge.  A narrow opening that was riven up from the
desert floor, splitting like an axe-stroke the precipitous mountain
ranges, and forming a pass through which an army might reach the
plateau that reared seven thousand feet above the desert.

The first phase of this plan entailed the seizure of the approaches to
the Sardi Gorge and particularly important 1: in this dry and scalded
desert would be the water supplies of the attacking army.

The General crossed the floor to the large-scale map, of Eastern

Africa which covered one wall, and he picked up the ivory pointer to
touch an isolated spot in the emptiness below the mountains.

"The Wells of Chaldi, he read the name aloud.  "Whom shall we send?"
The Captain looked up from his pad, and observed how the spot was
surrounded by the forbidding yellow of the desert.

He had been in Africa long enough to know what that meant, and there
was only one person who he would wish were there.

"Belli," he said.

"Ah," said the General.  "Count Aldo Belli the fire eater

"The clown, "said the Captain.

"Come, caro," the General admonished his aide mildly.

"You are too harsh.  The Count is a distinguished diplomat, he was for
three years ambassador to the court of St.  James in London.  His
family is old and noble and very very rich."

"He is a blow-hard,"

said the Captain stubbornly, and the General sighed.

"He is a personal friend of Benito Mussolini.  II Duce is a constant
guest at his castle.  He has great political power-"

"He would be well out of harm's way at this desolate spot," said the
Captain, and the General sighed again.

"Perhaps you are correct, caro.  Send for the good Count if you
please."  Captain Crespi stood on the steps of the headquarters
building,

beneath the portico with its imitation marble columns and the clumsily
painted fresco depicting a heroic band of heavily muscled Italians
defeating heathens, ploughing the earth, harvesting the corn, and
generally building an empire.

The Captain watched sourly as the huge Rolls-Royce open tourer bumped
down the dusty, pot-holed main street.

Its headlights glared like monstrously startled eyes, and its burnished
sky-blue paintwork was dulled by a light flouring of pale dust.  The
purchase price of this vehicle would have consumed five years of his
service pay, which accounted for much of the Captain's sourness.

Count Aldo Belli, as one of the nation's great landowners and amongst
the five most wealthy men in Italy, did not rely on the army for his
transportation.  The Rolls had been adapted and designed to his
personal specifications by the makers.

As it slid to a graceful halt beneath the portico, the k Captain
noticed the Count's personal arms blazoned on the front door.  - a
rampant golden wolf supporting a shield with a quartered device of
scarlet and silver.  The legend unfurled beneath it read, "Courage arms
me."  As the car stopped, a small wiry sun-blackened little man in the
uniform of a black shirt sergeant leaped from the seat be-side the
driver and dropped on one knee in the roadway with a bulky camera at
the ready to capture the moment when the figure in the wide rear seat
of the Rolls should descend.

Count Aldo Belli adjusted his black beret carefully, sucked in his
belly and rose to his feet as the driver scurried around to hold open
the door.  The Count smiled.  It was a smile of flashing white teeth
and powerful charisma.  His eyes were dark and romantic with the
sweeping lashes of a lady of fashion, his skin was lightly tanned to a
golden olive and the lustrous curls of his hair that escaped from under
the black beret shone in the sunlight.  Although he was almost
thirty-five years of age, not a single grey strand adulterated that
splendid mane.

From his commanding position his height was exaggerated, so he seemed
to tower god-like above the men who scampered about him.  The highly
polished cross-straps glittered across his chest as did the silver
deaths head cap badges.  The short regimental dagger on his hip set
with small diamonds and seed pearls was to the Count's own design,

and the ivory-handled revolver had been hand-made for him by Beretta;

the holster was belted in tightly to subdue a waistline that was
showing signs of rebellion.

The Count paused and glanced down at the little sergeant.

"Yes, Gino?"he asked.

"Good, my Count.  just a little up with the chin."  The Count's chin
caused them both much concern.  At certain angles, it showed an
alarming tendency to duplicate itself like the ripples on a pond. The

Count threw up his chin sternly, rather like 11 Duce, and the gesture
ironed out the jowls below.

"Bellissimo," cried Gino, and tripped the shutter.  The Count stepped
down from the Rolls, enjoying the way the soft sparkling leather of his
high boots gave like the bellows of a concertina above his instep as he
moved, and he hooked the thumb of his gloved left hand into the belt
above his dagger as he flung his right arm up and outwards in the
Fascist salute.

"The General awaits you, Colonel,"Crespi greeted him.

"I came the moment I received the summons."  The Captain made a move.
He knew the summons had been delivered at ten o'clock that morning and
it was now almost three in the afternoon.  The Count's primping had
taken most of the day, and now he glowed from bathing and shaving and
massaging and smelled like a rose garden in full bloom.

"Clown," thought the Captain again.  It had taken Crespi ten years of
unswerving service and dedication to reach his rank, while this man had
opened his purse, invited Mussolini for a week of hunting and carousal
to his estates at the foot of the Apennines, and had in return been
given the colonelcy of a full battalion.  The man had never fired a
shot at anything larger than a boar, and until six months ago had
commanded nothing more formidable than a squad of accountants, a troop
of gardeners or a platoon of strumpets to his bed.

"Clown," thought the Captain bitterly, bowing over the hand and
grinning ingratiatingly.  "Have your photograph taken swatting flies in
the Danakil desert, or sniffing camel dung beside the Wells of
Chaldi,"

he thought, and backed away through the wide doors into the relative
cool of the administrative building.  "This way, Colonel, if you would
be so kind."  A General De Bono lowered the binoculars through which
with brooding disquiet he had been studying the Ethiopian massif, and
almost with relief turned to greet the Colonel.

"Caro," smiled the General, extending both hands as he crossed the
uncarpeted hand-painted tiles.  "My dear Count, it is so good of you to
come."  The Count drew himself up at the threshold and flung the
Fascist salute at the advancing General, stopping him in confusion.

"In the services of my country and my king, I would count no sacrifice
too dear."  Aldo Belli was stirred by his own words.  He must remember
them.  They could be used again.

"Yes, of course," De Bono agreed hurriedly.  "I'm sure we all feel that
way."

"General De Bono, you have only to command me."

"Thank you, caro mio.  But a glass of Madeira and a biscuit first?"
suggested the

General.  A little sweetmeat to take away the taste of the medicine.

The General felt very bad about sending anyone down into the Danakil
country it was hot here in Asmara, God alone knew what it would be like
down there, and the General felt a pang of dismay that he had allowed

Crespi to select anyone with such political influence as the Count.  He
would not further insult the good Count by too hurriedly coming to the
business in hand.

"I hoped that you might have had an opportunity to hear the new
production of La Traviata before leaving Rome?"

"Indeed, General.  I

was fortunate enough to be included in the Duce's party for the opening
night."  The Count relaxed a little, smiling that flashing smile.

The General sighed as he poured the wine.  "Ha!  The civilized life, so
far a cry from this land of thorns and savages .

It was late afternoon before the General had steeled himself to
approach the painful subject of the interview and, smiling
apologetically, he gave his orders.

"The Wells of Chaldi," repeated the Count, and immediately a change
came over him.  He leapt to his feet, knocking over the Madeira glass,
and strode majestically back and forth, his heels cracking on the
tiles, belly sucked in and noble chin on high.

"Death before dishonour," cried Aldo Belli, the Madeira warming his
ardour.

"I hope not, caro," murmured the General.  "All I want you to do is
take up a guard position on an untenanted water-hole."  But the Count
seemed not to hear him.  His eyes were dark and glowing.

"I am greatly indebted to you for this opportunity to distinguish my
command.  You can count on me to the death."  The Count stopped short
as a fresh thought occurred to him.  "You will support my advance with
armour and aircraft?  "he asked anxiously.

"I don't really think that will be necessary, caro."  The General spoke
mildly.  All this talk of death and honour troubled him, but he did not
want to give offence.  "I don't think you will meet any resistance."

"But if I do?"  the Count demanded with mounting agitation,

so that the General went to stroke his arm placatingly.

"You have a radio, caro.  Call on me for any assistance you need

The Count thought about that for a moment and clearly found it
acceptable.  Once more the patriotic fervour returned to the glowing
eyes.

"Ours is the victory," he cried, and the General echoed him
vigorously.

"I hope so, caro.  Indeed I hope so."  Suddenly the Count swirled and
strode to the door.  He flung it open and called.

"Gino!"  The little black-shirted sergeant hurried into the room,

frantically adjusting the huge camera that hung about his neck.

"The General does not mind?"  asked Aldo Belli leading him to the
window.  "The light is better here."  The slanting rays of the dying
sun poured in to light the two men theatrically as the Count seized
De

Bono's hand.

"Closer together, please.  Back a trifle, General, you are covering the
Count.  That's excellent.  Chin up a little, my Count.

Ha!  Bello!"  cried Gino, and recorded faithfully the startled
expression above the General's little white goatee.

The senior major of the Blackshirt "Africa" Battalion was a hard
professional soldier of thirty years" experience, a veteran of
Vittorio

Veneto and Caporetto, where he had been commissioned in the field.

He was a fighting man and he reacted with disgust to his posting from
his prestigious regiment in the regular army to this rabble of
political militia.  He had protested at length and with all the power
at his command, but the order came from on high, from divisional
headquarters itself.  The divisional General was a friend of Count
Aldo

Belli, and He also knew the Count intimately and owed favours decided
that he needed a real soldier to guide and counsel him.  Major

Castelani was probably one of the most real soldiers in the entire army
of Italy.  Once he realized that his posting was inevitable, he had
resigned himself and settled to his new duties whipping and bullying
his new command into order.

He was a big man with a close-cropped skull of grey bristle, and a
hound-dog, heavily lined face burned and eroded by the weathering of a
dozen campaigns.  He walked with the rolling gait of a sailor or a
horseman, though he was neither, and his voice could carry a mile into
a moderate wind.

Almost entirely due to his single-handed efforts, the battalion was
drawn up in marching order an hour before dawn.  Six hundred and ninety
men with their motorized transports strung out down the main street of
Asmara.  The lorries were crammed with silent men huddling in their
greatcoats against the mild morning chill.  The motorcycle outriders
were sitting astride their machines flanking the newly polished but
passenger-less Rolls-Royce command car, with its gay pennants and its
driver sitting lugubriously at the wheel.  A charged sense of
apprehension and uncertainty gripped the entire assembly of warriors.

There had been wild rumours flying about the battalion for the last
twelve hours they had been selected for some desperate and dangerous
mission.  The previous evening the mess sergeant had actually witnessed
the Colonel Count Aldo Belli weeping with emotion as he toasted his
junior officers with the fighting slogan of the regiment,

"Death before dishonour," which might sound fine on a bellyful of
chianti, but left a hollow feeling at five in the morning on top of a
breakfast of black bread and weak coffee.

The Third Battalion was in a collectively sombre mood as the sun came
up in a blaze of hot scarlet, forcing them almost immediately to
discard the greatcoats.  The sun climbed into a sky of burning blue and
the men waited as patiently as oxen in the traces.  Someone once
observed that war is ninety-nine per cent boredom and one per cent
unmitigated terror.  The Third Battalion was learning the ninety-nine
per cent.

Major Luigi Castelani sent yet another messenger to the Colonel's
quarters a little before noon, and this time received a reply that
the

Count was now actually out of bed and had almost completed his toilet.
He would join the battalion shortly.  The Major swore with the practice
of an old campaigner and set off with his rolling swagger down the
column to quell the mutinous mutterings from the half mile-long column
of canvas-covered lorries sweltering in the midday sun.

The Count came like the rising sun itself, glowing and glorious,

flanked by two captains and preceded by a trooper carrying the battle
standard which the Count had personally designed.  It was based on the
eagles of a Roman legion, complete with shrieking birds of prey and
dangling silken tassels.

The Count floated on a cloud of bonhomie and expensive eau de cologne.
Gino got a few good shots of him embracing his junior officers, and
slapping the backs of the senior NCOs.  At the common soldiers he
smiled like a father and spurred their spleens with a few apt homilies
on duty and sacrifice as he strode down the column.

"What a fine body of warriors," he told the Major.  "I am moved to
song."  Luigi Castelani winced.  The Colonel was frequently moved to
song.  He had taken lessons with the most famous teachers in Italy and
as a younger man he had seriously considered a career in opera.

Now he halted and spread his arms, threw back his head and let the song
flow in a deep ringing baritone.  Dutifully, his officers joined in the
stirring chorus of "La Giovinezza', the Fascist marching song.

The Colonel moved slowly back along the patient column in the sunlight,
pausing to strike a pose as he went for a high note, lifting his right
hand with the tip of the second finger lightly touching the thumb,
while the other hand grasped the beiewelled dagger at his waist.

The song ended and the Colonel cried, "Enough!  It is time to march
where are the maps?"  and one of his subalterns hurried forward with
the map case.

"Colonel, sir," Luigi Castelani intervened tactfully.  "The road is
well sign-posted, and I have two native guides-" The Count ignored him
and watched while the maps were spread on the glistening bonnet of the
Rolls.

"Ah!"  He studied the maps learnedly, then looked up at his two
captains.  "One of you on each side of me," he instructed.  "Major Vita
you here!  A stern expression, if you please, and do not look at the
camera."  He pointed with a lordly gesture at Johannesburg four
thousand miles to the south and held the pose long enough for Gino to
record it.  Next, he climbed into the rear seat of the Rolls and,

standing, he pointed imperatively ahead along the road to the Danakil
desert.

Mistakenly, Luigi Castelani took this as a command to advance.  He let
out a series of bull-like bellows and the battalion was galvanized into
frantic action.  Like one man, they scrambled into the covered lorries
and took their seats on the long benches, each in full matching order
with a hundred rounds of ammunition in his bandolier and a rifle
between his knees.

However, by the time 690 men were embarked, the Colonel had once more
descended from the Rolls.  It was an unfortunate chance that dictated
that the Rolls should be parked directly in front of the casino.

The casino was a government-licensed institution under whose auspices
young ladies were brought out from Italy on six-month contracts to
cater to the carnal needs of tens of thousands of lusty young men in a
woman less environment.

Very few of these ladies had the stamina to sign a renewal of the
contract and none of them found it necessary.

Possessed of a substantial dowry, they returned home to find a
husband.

The casino had a silver roof of galvanized corrugated iron Hill and its
eaves and balconies were decorated with intricate cast-iron work.  The
windows of the girls" rooms opened on to the street.

The young hostesses, who usually rose in the mid afternoon, had been
prematurely awakened by the bellowing of orders and the clash of
weapons.  They had traipsed out on to the long second-floor veranda,

clad in brightly coloured but flimsy nightwear, and now entered into
the spirit of the occasion, giggling and blowing kisses to the
officers.  One of them had a bottle of iced Lacrima Cristi, which she
knew from experience was the Colonel's favourite beverage, and she
beckoned with the cold de wed bottle.

The Colonel realized suddenly that the singing and excitement had made
him thirsty and peckish.

"A cup for the stirrup, as the English say," he suggested jocularly,
and slapped one of the captains on the shoulder.

Most of his staff followed him with alacrity into the casino.

A little after five o'clock, one of the junior subalterns emerged,

slightly inebriated, from the casino with a message from the Colonel to
the Major.

"At dawn tomorrow, we advance without fail."  The battalion rumbled out
of Asmara the following morning at ten o'clock.  The Colonel was
feeling liverish and disgruntled.  The previous night's excitement had
got out of hand, he had sung until his throat was hoarse and had drunk
great quantities of Lacrima Cristi, before going upstairs with two of
the young hostesses.

Gino knelt on the seat of the Rolls beside him, holding an umbrella
over his head, and the driver tried to avoid potholes and
irregularities in the road.  But the Count was pale and his brow
sparkled with the sweat of nausea.

Sergeant Gino wished to cheer him.  He hated to see his

Count in misery and so he attempted to rekindle the warlike spirit of
yesterday.

"Think on it, my Count.  We of the entire army of Italy will be the
very first to confront the enemy.  The first to meet the blood-thirsty
barbarian with his cruel heart and red hands."  The Count thought on it
as he was bidden.  He thought on it with great concentration and
increasing nausea.

Suddenly he became aware that of all the 360,000 men that comprised the
expeditionary forces of Italy, he, Aldo Belli, was the very first, the
veritable point of the spear aimed at Ethiopia.  He remembered suddenly
the horror stories he had heard from the disaster of Adowa.  One of the
atrocity stories outweighed all others the

Ethiopians castrated their prisoners.  He felt the contents of that
noble sac between his thighs retracting forcibly and a fresh sweat
broke out upon his brow.

Stop!"  he shrieked at the driver.  "Stop, this instant."

A bare two miles from the centre of the town, the column was plunged
into confusion by the abrupt halt of the lead vehicle, and,

answering the loud and urgent shouts of the commanding officer, the

Major hurried forward to learn that the order of march had been
altered.  The command car would take up station in the exact centre of
the column with six motorcycle outriders brought back to ride as flank
guards.

It was another hour before the new arrangement could be put into effect
and once more the column headed south and west into the great empty
land with its distant smoky horizons and its vast vaulted blue dome of
the burning heavens.

Count Aldo Belli rode easier on the luxurious leather of the

Rolls, cheered by the knowledge that preceding him were three hundred
and forty-five fine rubbery sets of peasant testicles upon which the
barbarian could blunt his blade.

The column went into bivouac that evening fifty-three kilometres from
Asmara.  Not even the Count could pretend that this was a forced march
for motorized infantry but the advantage was that a pair of
motorcyclists could send back with a despatch for General De Bono
reassuring him of the patriotism, the loyalty and the fighting ardour
of the Third Battalion and, of course, on their return the cyclists
could carry blocks of ice from the casino packed in salt and straw and
stowed in the sidecars.

The following morning, the Count had recovered much of his good cheer.
He rose early at nine " O clock and took a hearty alfresco breakfast
with his officers under the shade of a spread tarpaulin and then, from
the rear seat of the Rolls, he gave a clenched fist cavalry order to
advance.

Still in the centre of the column, pennants fluttering and battle
standard glittering, the Rolls glided forward and it looked, even to
the disillusioned Major, as if they might make good going of the day's
march.

The undulating grassland fell away almost imperceptibly beneath the
speeding wheels, and the blue loom of the mountains on their right hand
merged gradually with the lighter fiercer blue of the sky.  The
transition to desert country was so gradual as to lull the unobservant
traveller.

The intervals between the flat-topped acacia trees became greater and
the trees themselves were more stunted, more twisted and spiky, as they
progressed, until at last they ceased and the bushes of spino

Cristi replaced them grey and low and viciously thor ned  The earth was
parched and crumbled, dotted with clumps of camel grass and the horizon
was unbroken, enclosing them entirely.  The land itself was so flat and
featureless that it gave the illusion of being saucer-shaped, as though
the rim of the land rose slightly to meet the sky.

Through this wilderness, the road was slashed like the claw mark of a
predator into the fleshy red soil.  The tracks were so deeply rutted
that the middle hump constantly brushed the chassis of the

Rolls, and a mist of fine red dust stood in the heated air long after
the column had passed.

The Colonel was bored and uncomfortable.  It was becoming increasingly
clear, even to the Count, that the wilderness harboured no hostile
horde, and his courage and impatience returned.

"Drive to the head of the column," he instructed Giuseppe, and the

Rolls pulled out and sped past the leading trucks, the Count bestowing
a cheery salute on Castelani as he left him glowering and muttering
behind him.

When Castelani caught up with him again, two hours later, the

Count was standing on the burnished bonnet of the Rolls staring through
his binoculars at the horizon and doing an excited little dance while
he urged Gino to make haste in unpacking the special Mantilicher 9.3
men sporting rifle from its leather case.  The weapon was of seasoned
walnut, butt and stock, and the blued steel was inlaid with
twenty-four-carat gold hunting scenes of the chase boar and stag,

huntsmen on horseback and hounds in full cry.  It was a masterpiece of
the gunsmith's art.

Without lowering the binoculars, he gave orders to Castelani to erect
the radio aerial and send a message of good cheer and enthusiasm to
General De Bono, to report the magnificent progress made by the
battalion to date and assure him that they would soon command all the
approaches to the Sardi Gorge.  The Major should also put the column
into laager and set up the ice machine while the Colonel undertook a
reconnaissance patrol in the direction in which he was now staring so
intently.

The group of big dun-coloured animals he was watching were a mile off
and moving steadily away into the mirage-fevered distance, but their
gracefully straight horns showed dark and lo the against the distant
sky.

Gino had the loaded Mannlicher in the rear seat and the Count jumped
down into the passenger seat beside the driver.  Standing holding the
windshield with one hand, he gave his officers the Fascist salute, and
the Rolls roared forward, left the road and careered away,

weaving amongst the thorn scrub and bounding over the rough ground in
pursuit of the distant herd.

The beisa oryx is a large and beautiful desert antelope.

There were eight of them in the herd and with their sharp eyesight they
were in flight before the Rolls had approached within three-quarters of
a mile.

They ran lightly over the rough ground, their pale beige hides blending
cunningly with the soft colours of the desert, but the long wicked
black horns rode proudly as any battle standard.

The Rolls gained steadily on the running herd, with the Count
hysterically urging his driver to greater speed, ignoring the thorn
branches that scored the flawless sides of the big blue machine as it
passed.  Hunting was one of the Count's many pleasures.  Boar and stag
were specially bred on his estates, but this was the first large game
he had encountered since his arrival in Africa.  The herd was strung
out, two old bulls leading, plunging ahead with a light rocking-horse
gait, while the cows and two younger males trailed them.

The bouncing, roaring machine drew level with the last animal and ran
alongside at a range of twenty yards.  The galloping oryx did not turn
its head but ran on doggedly after its stronger companions.

"Halt," shrieked the Count, and the driver stood on his brakes,

the car broadsiding to rest in a billowing cloud of dust.  The Count
tumbled out of the open door and threw up the Mannlicher.  The barrel
kicked up and the shots crashed out.  The first was a touch high and it
threw a puff of dust off the earth far beyond the running animal the
second slapped into the pale fur in front of the shoulder and the young
oryx somersaulted over its broken neck and went down in a clumsy tangle
of limbs.

"Onwards!"  shouted the Count, leaping aboard the Rolls as it roared
away once again.  The herd was already far ahead but inexorably the
Rolls closed the gap and at last drew level.  Again the ringing crack
of rifle-fire and the sliding, tumbling fall of a heavy pale body.

Like a paper chase, they left the wasteland littered with the pale
bodies until only one old bull ran on alone.  And he was cunning,

swinging away westward into the broken ground for which he clearly
headed at the outset of the chase.

It was hours and many miles later when the Count lost all patience.  On
the lip of another wadi he stopped the Rolls and ordered Gino,
protesting volubly, to stand at attention and offer his shoulder as a
dead-rest for the Marmlicher.

The beisa had slowed now to an exhausted trot, but the range was six
hundred yards as the Count sighted across the intervening scrub and
through heat-dancing air that swirled like gelatinous liquid.

The rifle-fire cracked the desert silences and the antelope kept
trotting steadily away, while the Count shrieked abuse at it and
crammed a fresh load of brass cartridges into the magazine.

The animal was almost beyond effective range now, but the next bullet
fired with the rear sight at maximum elevation fell in a long arcing
trajectory and they heard the thump of the strike, long after the beisa
had collapsed abruptly and disappeared below the line of grey scrub.

When they had found another crossing and forced the

, Rolls through the deep ravine, scraping the rear fender and denting
one of the big silver wheel-hubs, they came up to the spot where the
antelope lay on its side.  Leaving the rifle on the back seat in his
eagerness, the Count leapt out before the Rolls had stopped completely.
-Get one of me completing the coup de grace," he shouted at Gino,

as he unholstered the ivory-handled Beretta and ran to the downed
animal.

The soft bullet had shattered the spinal column a few inches forward of
the pelvis, paralysing the hindquarters, and the blood pumped gently
from the wound in a bright rivulet down the pale beige flank.

The Count posed dramatically, pointing the pistol at the magnificently
horned head with its elaborate face-mask of dark chocolate stripes.
Near by, Gino knelt in the soft earth focusing the camera.

At the critical moment, the antelope heaved itself up into a sitting
position and stared with swimming agonized eyes into the

Count's face.  The beisa is one of the most aggressive antelopes in

Africa, capable of killing even a fully grown lion with its long rapier
horns.  This old bull weighed 450 lb.  and stood four feet high at the
shoulder while the horns rose another three feet above that.

The beisa snorted, and the Count forgot all about the levelled pistol
in his hand in his sudden desperate desire to reach the safety of the
Rolls.

Leading the beisa by six inches, he vaulted lightly into the back seat
and crouched on the floorboards, covering his head with both arms while
the beisa battered the sides of the Rolls, driving in one door and
ripping the paintwork with the deadly horns.

Gino was trying to disappear into the earth by sheer pressure, and he
was making a pitiful wailing sound.  The driver had stalled the engine,
and he sat frozen in his seat and every time the beisa crashed into the
Rolls, he was thrown so violently forward that his forehead struck the
windshield, and he pleaded, "Shoot it, my Count.  Please, my

Count, shoot the monster."  The Count's posterior was pointed to the
sky.  It was the only part of his anatomy that was visible above the
rear seat of the Rolls and he was shrieking for somebody to hand him
the rifle, but not raising his head to search for it.

The bullet that had severed the beisa's spine had angled forward and
pierced the lung as well.  The violent exertions of the stricken animal
tore open a large artery and, with a pitiful bellow and a sudden double
spurt of blood through the nostrils, it collapsed.

In the long silence that followed, the Count's pale face rose slowly
above the level of the back door and he stared fearfully at the
carcass.  Its stillness reassured him.  Cautiously, he groped for the

Marinlicher, lifted it slowly and poured a stream of bullets into the
inert beisa.  His hands were shaking so violently that some of the
shots missed the body and came perilously close to where Gino still
lay, producing a fresh outburst of wails and more mole-like efforts to
become subterranean.

Satisfied that the beisa was at last dead, the Count descended and
walked slowly towards a nearby clump of thorn scrub, but his gait was
bow-legged and stiff, for he had lightly soiled his magnificently
monogrammed silk underwear.

In the cool of the evening, the slightly crumpled Rolls returned to the
battalion bivouac.  Draped over the bonnet and across the wide
mudguards lay the bleeding carcasses of the antelopes.  The Count stood
to acknowledge the cheers of his troops, a veritable triumphant
Nimrod.

A radio message from General De Bono awaited him.  It was not a
reprimand, the General would not go that far, but it pointed out that
although the General was grateful for the Count's efforts up to the
present time, and for his fine sentiments and loyal messages,
nevertheless the General would be very grateful if the Count could find
some way in which to speed up his advance.

The Count sent him a five-hundred-word reply ending, "Ours is the

Victory," and then went to feast on barbecued antelope livers and iced
chianti with his officers.

Leaving the sailing and handling of the HirondeUe to his

Mohammedan mate and his raggedy crew, Captain Papadopoulos had spent
the preceding five days sitting at the table in his low-roofed poop
cabin playing two-handed gin rummy with Major Gareth Swales.  Gareth
had suggested the diversion and it had occurred to the Captain by this
time that there was something unnatural in the consistent run of
winning cards which had distinguished Gareth's play.

The agreed fare for transporting the cars and the four passengers had
totalled two hundred and fifty of sterling.

The Captain's losses had just exceeded that figure, and Gareth smiled
winningly at Papadopoulos and smoothed the golden moustaches.

"What do you say we give it a break now, Papa old sport, go up on deck
and stretch the legs, what?"  Having recovered the passage money,

Gareth had accomplished the task he had set himself, and he was now
anxious to return to the open deck where Vicky Camberwell and Jake were
becoming much too friendly for his peace of mind.

Every time Gareth had been forced by nature to make a brief journey to
the poop rail, he had seen the two of them together and they seemed to
be laughing a great deal, which was always a bad sign.  Vicky was in
the forefront of any action,

passing tools to Jake and offering general encouragement, as he worked
at fine-tuning the cars and making last minute preparations for the
desert crossing or the two of them sat with Gregorius while amidst
great hilarity he gave them basic lessons in the Amharic language.  He
wondered distractedly what else they were up to.

However, Gareth was a man sure of his priorities and his first concern
was to recover his money from Papadopoulos.

Having done so, he could now return to sheep-dogging Vicky

Camberwell.

"It's been a lot of fun, Papa."  He half rose from the table,

folding the grimy wad of banknotes into his back pocket and gathering
the pile of coins with his free hand.

Captain Papadopoulos reached into the depths of the Arabic gown he wore
and produced a knife with an ornately carved handle and a viciously
curved blade.  He balanced it lightly in the palm of his hand and his
single eye glittered coldly at Gareth.

"Deal!"  he said, and Gareth smiled blandly and sank back into his
seat.  He picked up the cards and cut them with a ripping sound and the
knife disappeared into Papadopoulos's gown once more as he watched the
shuffle intently.

"Actually, I do feel like a few more hands," Gareth murmured.

"Just getting warmed up, hey?"  The slaver altered course as she
cleared the tip of the great horn of Africa and rounded Cape Guardafui.
Before her lay the long gut of the Gulf of Aden and a run of five
hundred miles westwards to French Somaliland.

The Hindu mate came down and whispered fearfully to his Captain.

"What troubles the fellow?"  Gareth asked.

"He worries about the English blockade."

"A "So do I" Gareth answered.  "Shouldn't we go up on deck?  Deal,"said
Papadopoulos.

Below them they heard the steady thumping beat of the big diesel engine
begin, and the vibration of the propeller shaft spinning in its bed.
The mate had her under sail and power now, and the motion of the ship
changed immediately, the thrust of the propeller combining with the
push of the full spread of her canvas, and she flew towards the vivid
purple and pink flush of sky and piled cumulus cloud behind which the
sun was beginning to set.

The mate had set a course which would take him swiftly down the middle
of the Gulf, out of sight of Africa on his port side and Arabia on the
starboard.  The HirondeUe was making twenty-five knots, for the sea
breeze was on her best point of sailing and a day and two nights would
see them in and out again.  He sent one of his best men -to the
masthead with a telescope and he wondered which the English viewed more
sternly young black girls in chains or Vickers machine guns in wooden
cases.  Mournfully he concluded that either of them would be lethal and
he shrilled at his masthead to keep a strict watch.

The sun was sinking with agonizing slowness, almost dead ahead and the
wind rose steadily, driving the Hirondelle on deeper into the gut.

Jake Barton wriggled out of the engine hatch of Miss Wobbly and grinned
at Vicky Camberwell who sat on the sponson above him swinging her long
legs idly, with the wind in her hair and the tan she had picked up in
the last few days gilding her arms and flushing at her cheeks.  She had
lost the dark rings of worry and the paleness of fatigue, and looked
now like a schoolgirl, young and carefree and gay.

"That's the best I can do," said Jake, beginning to scour the black
grease from his arms with Scrubbs Ammonia.

"She's running so sweetly, I could take her out at Le Mans."  Her knees
were at the level of Jake's eyes and her skirts had tucked up high.  He
felt his heart stop as he glanced down the smooth length of her thigh.
Her skin had a lustre and sheen, as though made of some precious and
rare substance.

Vicky saw the direction of his gaze and brought her knees together
sharply, although a smile touched her lips.  She jumped down lightly on
to the deck, steadying herself against the Hirondelle's rolling action
with a touch on the muscled hardness of his arm.  Vicky thoroughly
enjoyed the admiration of an attractive male and Gareth had been
closeted in the Captain's cabin these last five days.  She smiled up
at

Jake.  He was tall but the bush of dark hair that curled around his
ears gave him the look of a small boy which was again quickly dispelled
by the strong jaw line and the fine networks of creases that radiated
from the outer corners of his eyes.

She realized suddenly that he was on the point of stooping to kiss her,
and she felt a delicious indecision the slightest encouragement would
set Jake on a violent collision course with Gareth and might seriously
endanger the whole expedition and the story she wanted so badly.  At
that moment she noticed, as if for the first time, that

Jake's mouth was wide and rutI and his lips were delicately shaped for
the bigness and hairiness of him.  His chin and cheeks were blued with
a day's growth of beard and she knew it would feel rough and electric
against her own peach-smooth cheeks.  Suddenly she wanted to feel that,
and she lifted her chin slightly and knew that he would read that want
in the sparkle of her eyes.

The masthead shrieked like a startled gull and instantly the

Hirondelle was plunged into frantic activity.  The Mohammedan mate
echoed his shrieks, but at a higher volume, and his grubby robes
flapped around him in the wind.  His eyes rolled in his dark brown
skull and his toothless moutth opened so wide that Jake could see the
little pink glottis dangling in the back of his throat.

"What is it?  "Vicky demanded, her hand still on Jake's arm.

"Trouble," he answered grimly, and they turned as the door of the poop
cabin flew open and Papadopoulos rushed out with his queue twitching
like the tail of a lioness and his single eye blinking rapidly.  He
still clutched a fan of cards in his right hand.

"One more card and I make gin!"  he howled bitterly, and threw the
cards into the wind and grabbed the mate by the front of his gown,

shouting into his open but now silent mouth.

The mate pointed aloft and Papadopoulos dropped him and hailed the
masthead in Arabic, and Jake listened to the swift exchange.

"A British destroyer sounds like "Dauntless"," he muttered.

"You speak Arabic?"  Vicky asked, and Jake stilled the question
irritably and listened again.

"The destroyer has seen us.  She's altering course to intercept."

Jake looked quickly at the smouldering globe of the sun, the crinkles
around his eyes puckering up thoughtfully as he listened to the heated
argument in Arabic taking place on the poop deck.

"Are you two having fun?"  Gareth Swales asked, smiling but with a
glitter in his eyes as he glanced significantly at Vicky's hand still
on Jake's arm.  He had come out of the cabin as silently as a
panther.

Vicky dropped her hand guiltily and immediately wished she had not. She
owed Gareth Swales no debts and she answered his stare defiantly,
before turning back to Jake and finding him gone.

"What is it, Papa?"  Gareth called up at the poop-deck, and the

Captain snarled, "Your Royal mucking Navy that's what it is."  And he
shook his fist at the northern horizon.  "The Dauntless she based at

Aden, blockade for slavers."

"Where is she?"  Gareth's expression changed swiftly and he strode to
the rail.

"She's coming fast masthead watching her.  She'll be over the horizon
pretty damn quick."  Papadopoulos turned from Gareth and roared a
series of orders at his crew.

Immediately they swarmed down on to the main deck and gathered about
the first car it was Priscilla the Pig swaying gently on her suspension
as the schooner plunged ahead.

"I say," Gareth exclaimed.  "What are you up to?"

"They catch me with arms aboard, big trouble," Papadopoulos explained.
"No arms, no trouble," and he watched his men fall on the lines that
secured the big white-painted vehicle.  "We do same trick with slaves,
they go down pretty damn fast with the chains."

"Now, just hold on a shake.  I paid you a fortune to transport this
cargo."

"Where that fortune now,

Major?"  Papadopoulos shouted down at him derisively.  "I got nothing
in my pants how about you?"  and the Captain turned away to urge his
men on.

The turret of Priscilla the Pig opened suddenly and from it emerged the
head and shoulders of Jake Barton with his hair blowing in the wind and
a Vickers machine gun in his arms.  He braced himself in the turret
with the thick water jacketed barrel of the Vickers across the crook of
his left arm, and the pistol grip firmly enclosed in his other hand.

Across his shoulder was draped a heavy necklace of belted ammunition.

He fired a roaring clattering burst, the tracer streaking in fiery
white balls of flame a mere twelve inches over the Captain's head.
The

Greek threw himself flat on his deck, howling with terror, and his crew
scattered like a flock of startled hens, while Jake looked down on them
benignly from his post in the turret.

"I think we should understand each other, Captain.

Nobody is going to touch these machines.  The only way you are going to
save your ship is by out sailing the Englishman, Jake called mildly.

"She can make thirty knots," protested the Captain, still face down on
the deck.

"The longer you talk the less time you have," Jake told him.

"It'll be dark in twenty minutes.  Turn away, and make a stern chase of
it until it is dark Papadopoulos rose uncertainly to his feet, and
stood blinking his one eye rapidly and miserably wringing his hands.

"Kindly move your arse," said Jake affably, and fired another burst of
machine-gun bullets over his head.

The Captain dropped once again to the deck, howling the orders to bring
the HirondelLe around on a course directly away from the closing

British warship.

As the schooner came around on to her new course, Jake called

Gareth across to him, and handed him the machine gun.  "I want this
bunch of bastards covered while I work with the Greek.  You, Vicky
and

Greg can batten down the hatches on the cars in the meantime."

"Where did you get that gun?"  Gareth asked.  "I thought they were all
cased."

"I like to keep a little insurance at all times, "Jake grinned, and

Gareth selected two cheroots from his case, lit them both, and passed
one up to Jake.

"Compliments of the management" he said.  "I'm beginning to know why I
picked you as a partner."  Jake stuck the cheroot in the side of his
mouth, exhaled a long blue feather of smoke and grinned jauntily.

"If you've got any pull with your Royal Navy, lad, then get ready to
use it."  Jake stood in the deep canvas crows-nest at the cross trees
of the main mast, and swayed with a gut-swooping rhythm through the arc
of the swinging mast as he tried to keep the grey silhouette that
closed them rapidly in the field of the telescope.

Although the warship was only ten miles off, already her shape was
fading into the deepening dusk, for the sea breeze had chopped the
surface to a wave-flecked immensity and the sun behind Jake was
touching the watery horizon and throwing the east into mysterious blue
shade.

Suddenly a bright prick of light began winking rapidly from the hazy
shape of the warship , and Jake read the urgent p query.

"What ship?"  and Jake grinned and tried to judge how conspicuous the
schooner, with her mass of canvas, was to the destroyer, and to decide
the moment when he would trade speed for invisibility.

The destroyer was signalling again.

"Heave to or I will fire upon you."

"Bloody pirates," Jake growled indignantly, and cupped his hand to
bellow down at the bridge.

"Get the canvas off her."  On the deck far below, he saw the

Greek's face, pale in the dusk looking up at him, then heard his orders
repeated and watched the motley crew climb swiftly aloft.

Jake glanced back towards the tiny dark shape of the destroyer on the
limitless dark sea and saw the angry red flash of her forward gun bloom
in the dark.  He remembered that flash so well and his skin crawled
with the insects of fear as he waited out the long seconds while the
shell climbed high into the sombre sky and then fell towards the
schooner.

He heard it come, passing overhead in a rising shriek, before it
pitched into the sea half a mile ahead of Hirondelle.

A swift, blooming pillar of spray gleamed in the last rays of the sun
like pink Carrara marble and then was blown swiftly away on the wind.

The crewmen froze in the rigging, petrified by the howling passage of
the shot, and then suddenly they were galvanized into frantic babbling
activity and the gleaming white canvas disappeared as swiftly as a wild
goose furls its wings when it settles on the lake surface.

Jake looked back at the destroyer and searched for seconds before he
found her.  He wondered what they would make of the disappearance of
the sails.  They might believe the Hirondelle had obeyed the order to
heave to, not guessing that she was under propeller power as well.

Certainly she would have disappeared from their view, her low dark hull
no longer beaconed by the towering white pyramid of canvas.  He waited
impatiently for the last few minutes until the warship itself was no
longer visible from the masthead before bellowing down to the Greek the
orders that sent Hirondelle swinging away into the wind and pounding
back into the head sea along her original track, side-stepping the
headlong charge of the destroyer.

Jake held that course while the tropical night fell over the Gulf like
a warm thick blanket, pricked only by the cold white stars.  He
strained his eyes into the impenetrable blackness, chilled by "the fear
that the destroyer Captain might have double-guessed him and
anticipated his turn.  At any moment, he expected to see the towering
steel hull emerge at close range from the night and flood the schooner
with the brilliant white beams of her battle lights and hear the
squawking peremptory challenge of her bull horn.

Then suddenly, with a violent lift of relief, he saw the cold white
fingers of the lights far behind at least six miles away at the spot
where the destroyer had seen him taking in sail.  The Captain had
bought the dummy, believing that Hirondelle had heaved to and waited
for him to come up.

Jake threw back his head and laughed with relief before he caught
himself and began shouting new orders down to the deck, swinging the
schooner once again across the wind on the reciprocal of the warship's
course, and beginning the long delicate contest of skill in which the

Hirondelle ducked and weaved on to her old course, while the warship
plunged blindly back and forth across the darkened Gulf, searching
desperately with the mile-long beams of the battle lights for the dark
and stinking hull of the slaver or switching them off and running under
full power with all her ports darkened in the hope of taking

HirondeUe unawares.

Once the destroyer Captain almost succeeded, but Jake caught the
flashing phosphorescence of her bow-wave a mile off.  Desperately he
yelled at the Greek to heave to and they lay silent and unseen while
the low greyhound-wasted warship slid swiftly across their bows, her
engines beating like a gigantic pulse, and was swallowed once again by
the night.  The nervous sweat that bathed Jake's shirt dried icy cold
in the night wind as he put HirondeUe cautiously on course again.

Two hours later he saw the lights of the destroyer again, a glow of
white light far astern, that pulsed like summer sheet lightning as the
arc lamps traversed back and forth.

Then there was only the stars and many hours later the first steely
light of dawn growing steadily and expanding the circle of the dark sea
around the schooner.

Chilled to the bone by the night wind and the long hours of inactivity,
Jake swept the horizon back and forth as the light strengthened, and
only when he knew that it was empty of any trace of the warship did he
close the telescope, climb stiffly from the crows-nest and begin the
long slow journey down the rigging to the deck below.

Papadopoulos greeted him like a brother, reaching up to hug him and
breathe garlic in his face, and Vicky had the chop-box open and the
primus stove hissing.  She brought him an enamel mug of steaming black
coffee and looked at him with a new respect tinged with admiration.

Gareth opened the hatch of the turret from which during the whole night
he had commanded the crew with a loaded Vickers machine gun and came to
fetch the other mug of coffee from Vicky and gave Jake a cheroot as
they moved to the rail together.

"I keep underestimating you," he grinned, as he cupped his hands around
the flaring match he offered Jake.  "Just because you are big I keep
thinking you are stupid."

"You'll get over it, "Jake promised him.  Instinctively they both
glanced across the deck at where Vicky was breaking eggs into the pan
and they understood each other very clearly.

She shook them both awake a little before noon.  They were sprawled on
their blankets in the shade under one of the cars trying to catch up on
the sleep they had missed that night.  However, they followed Vicky
without protest to the bows and the three of them peered ahead at the
low lioncoloured coast line, upon which the surf creamed softly and
over which the hard aching blue shield of the sky blazed with an
intensity that hurt the eyes.

There was no clear dividing line between earth and sky.

It was blurred by the low mist of dust and heat that wavered and
rippled like the yellow mane of the lion.  Vicky wondered whether she
had ever seen such an uninviting scene, and decided she had not.  She
began to compose the words with which she would describe it to her tens
of thousands of readers.

Gregorius came up to join the group.  He had discarded the western
dress and donned instead the traditional sham ma and tight breeches.
He had become the man of Africa once again, and the smooth
chocolate-brown face, with its halo of dark thick curls, was lit by the
passion of the returning exile.

"You cannot see the mountains the haze is too thick," he explained.
"But sometimes in the dawn when the air is cooler-" and he stared into
the west, with his longing expressed clearly in the liquid flashing
eyes and upon the full sculptured lips.

The schooner crept inshore, gliding over the shallows where the water
was like that of a mountain stream, so clear that they could make out
every detail of the reef thirty feet down and watch the shoals of coral
fish below like bejewelled clouds through the crystal waters.

Papadopoulos turned the HirondeUe to approach the shore at an oblique
angle so that the details of the coast resolved themselves gradually
and they saw the golden red beaches broken by headlands and points of
jagged rock, and beyond it the land rose gradually, barren and awful,
speckled only with the low scrubby spino Cristi and car riel grass.

For an hour they ran parallel with the shore, a thousand yards off, and
the group by the rail stood and stared at it with fascination.

Only Jake had left the group and was making the preparations to begin
unloading, but he also came back to the rail when abruptly a deep bay
opened ahead of them.

"The Bay of Chains," said Gregorius, and it was clear how it had got
its name, for, huddled under the cliffs of one headland and protected
from the prevailing winds and the run of the surf by the horn of land,
were the ruins of the ancient slave city of Month.

Gregorius pointed it out to them, for it did not look like a city.

It was merely an area of broken rock and stone blocks running down to
the water's edge.  They were close enough now to make out the roughly
geometrical layout of smothered streets and roofless buildings.

Hirondeue dropped anchor and snubbed up gently.  Jake finished his
final preparations for unloading and crossed to where Gareth stood by
the rail.

"One of us will have to swim a line ashore."

"Spin you for it,"

suggested Gareth, and before Jake could protest he had the coin in his
hand.

"Heads!"  jake looked resigned.

"Bad luck, old son.  Give the sharks my love."  Gareth smiled and
stroked his mustache.

Jake balanced on the clumsy pontoon raft as it was lifted by the donkey
engine and lowered over the side, dangling on the heavy lines.  and
floated alongside as It settled on to the surface un-gracefully as a
pregnant hippo.

Jake grinned up at Vicky who was leaning over the rail, watching with
interest.

"Unless you want to be blinded with splendour, you'd better close your
eyes."  For a moment she did not understand, but then as he started to
strip off his shirt and unbutton his pants, she turned modestly away.

With the end of a coil of light line tied about his waist Jake plunged
naked into the sea and struck out for the shore.  Vicky's curiosity got
the better of her at this stage, and she glanced slyly overboard. There
was something so childlike and defenceless about a man with his
trousers off, she thought, as she considered Jake's bobbing white
buttocks.  She might develop that as a theme in one of her columns, she
thought, and then realized that Gareth Swales was watching her with one
mockingly raised eyebrow, as he paid out the coil of line that snaked
after Jake.  She blushed pinkly under her tan and hurried away to make
sure her typewriter and personal duffel bag were packed away into Miss
Wobbly.

Jake touched bottom and waded ashore to secure the line to one of the
stone blocks, and already the first car was on on its wooden blocks,
and, with the winch clattering, was being lifted over the side.

With each man performing his own task skilfully, one at a time the cars
were lowered on to the bobbing raft.  There its wheels were hastily
lashed and it was hauled carefully towards the beach by the land
line.

As soon as the raft ran aground on the sloping yellow sand, Jake
started the engine while Gregorius clamped the footboards into place.
Then with the engine revving noisily and the raft swaying dangerously,
it rolled over the footboards and up the slope to park well above the
high-water mark.  Then the raft was hauled back alongside the schooner
for its next load.

Although they worked as swiftly as safety would allow, the hours sped
away just as swiftly, and it was late afternoon when the last load of
fuel drums and wooden cases, with Vicky Camberwell sitting on top of
the precarious load, made the short crossing to the beach.

Almost the instant it left the ship's side, the diesel thumped into
life, the anchor chain rattled in over the bows and Papadopoulos gave
the order to cast off the line of the raft.

By the time Vicky jumped down on the crunchy sand, the Hirondelle was
moving steadily out between the horns of the bay, and spreading her
wings of white canvas to the evening breeze.  The four of them stood
upon the beach in the lowering dusk and watched her go.  None of them
waved, and yet they all felt a loss at her going.  Stinking slaver,

with a crew of pirates, yet she had been their link with the outer
world.  HirondeUe cleared the cliffs and caught the full drive of the
wind, heeled eagerly and went away, with her wake leaving a long oily
slick across the surface long after she had disappeared into the
Gulf.

Jake broke the spell of silence and loneliness that held them.

"All right, my children.  Let's make camp."  They had landed on the
open beach between the ruined city and the headland, and now the
evening wind was sweeping dust and grit across their exposed
position.

Jake selected a sheltered hollow under the lee of the ruins, and they
moved the cars up and parked them in the protective hollow square of
the laager.

The ancient buildings were choked with piled sand and thick with the
spiny camel-thorn growth that blocked the narrow streets.  While

Jake and Gregorius checked the fuelling and lubrication of the
vehicles, and Gareth scraped a fireplace against a shielding stone
wall, Vicky wandered off to explore the ruins in the dusk.

She did not go far.  A tangible sense of menace and human suffering
seemed to emanate from the rubble of buildings that had been burned
over a century before.  It made her skin crawl, but she picked her way
cautiously along a narrow alleyway that opened at last into an open
square.

She knew instinctively that this had been the trading square of the
slave city and she imagined the long chained lines of human beings.

The pervading aura of their misery still persisted.  She wondered if
she could capture it on paper, and make her readers see that it had not
changed.  Once again, a consuming greed was to place a nation in
chains, once again hundreds of thousands of human beings would be
forced to learn the same misery that this city had engendered.  She
must write that, she decided, she must capture the sense of outrage and
despair she felt now and convey it to the civilized peoples of the
world.

A small scuffling sound distracted her and she looked down, then drew
back with a shudder from the finger-length purple scorpion, with its
lobster claws and the high curved tail bearing a single-hooked fang
that scuttled towards the toe of her boot.  She turned and hurried back
along the alleyway.

The chill of horror stayed with her, so that she crossed gratefully to
the bright fire of thorn twigs that blazed under the ruined wall.
Gareth looked up as she knelt beside him and held out her hands to the
blaze.

"I was just coming to look for you.  Better not wander off on your
own."

"I can look after myself," she told him quickly, with an edge to her
voice which was becoming familiar.

"I agree."  He smiled placatingly at her.  "A bit too damned well

I sometimes think, "and he dug in his pocket.

"I found something in the sand as I was digging the fireplace."  He
held out a broken circle of metal which gleamed yellow in the
firelight.  It was fashioned as a snake bangle, with a serpent's forged
head and coiled body.

Vicky felt her irritation evaporate magically.  "Oh, Gary," she lifted
it in both hands, "it's beautiful.  Is it gold?"

"I suspect it is."  She slipped the heavy bangle over her wrist and
admired it with a glowing expression, twisting it to catch the light.

"Not one of them can resist a gift," Gareth thought comfortably,

watching her face in the dancing firelight.

"it belonged to a princess, who was famous for her beauty and her
compassion to besotted suitors," said Gareth lightly.

"So I thought how fitting that you should have it."

"Oh!"  she gasped.  "For me."  And impulsively she leaned forward to
kiss his cheek, and was startled when he turned his head quickly and
her lips pressed full against his.  For a moment she tried to pull away
and then it did not seem worth the effort.  After all, it was a truly
magnificent bracelet.

In the light of the single hurricane lamp, Jake and Gregorius were
studying the large-scale map spread on the engine bonnet of Priscilla
the Pig.  Gregorius was tracing the route they must take to the shed of
the Awash River and lamenting the map's many inaccuracies and
omissions.

"If you had tried to follow this, you'd have got into serious trouble,
Jake."  Jake looked up suddenly from the map, and thirty paces away he
saw the two figures in the firelight come together and stay that way.
He felt his pulse begin to pound and the blood come up his neck,
scalding hot.

"Let's get some coffee, "he grunted.

"In a minute," Gregorius protested.  "First I want to show you where we
have to cross the sand desert-" He pointed at the map, tracing a route
and not realizing that he was talking to himself alone.  Jake had left
him to interrupt the action at the fireside.

Vicky awoke in the first uncertain light of dawn to the realization
that the wind had dropped.  It had whistled dismally all night, so that
now when she pulled back her blanket, it was thickly powdered with
golden grit and she could feel it stiff in her hair and crunchy between
her teeth.  One of the men was snoring loudly, but they were three long
blanket-wrapped bundles close together, so she was not sure which of
them it was.  She fetched her toilet bag, towel and a change of
underwear, then slipped out of the " laager, climbed the slope of the
dune and ran down to the beach.

The dawn was absolutely still, the surface of the bay as smooth as a
sheet of pink satin as the glow of the hidden sun touched it.  The
silence was the complete silence of the desert, unbroken by bird or
beast, wind or surf and the dismay she had felt the previous day
evaporated.

She stripped off her clothing and walked down the wet sand that the
tide had smoothed during the night and waded out into the pink waters,
sticking in her belly against the sudden chill of it, and gasping with
pleasure as she squatted suddenly neck deep and began to scrub her body
of the night's grit and dirt.

When she waded ashore, the sun was cresting the sweeping watery horizon
of the Gulf.  The tone of light had altered drastically.

Already the soft hues of dawn were giving way to the harsher brilliance
of Africa to which she had become accustomed.

She dressed quickly, bundling her used underwear in the towel and
combing her wet hair as she climbed the dune.

At the crest, she halted abruptly with the comb still caught in the
tangle of her hair and she gasped again as she stared out into the
west.

As Gregorius had told them, the still cool air and the peculiar light
of the rising sun created a stage effect, foreshortening the hundred
miles of flat featureless desert and throwing up into the sky the sheer
massif of the highlands, so that it seemed she might stretch out her
hand and touch it.

It was dark purplish blue in the early light, but as Vicky watched in
awe, it changed colour like some gargantuan chameleon, becoming gilded
with bright sun colours and beginning at the same time to recede
swiftly, until it was a pale wraith that dissolved into the first
dancing heat mirages of the desert -day, and she felt the sultry puff
of the rising wind.

She roused herself and hurried down the dune into the laager.

Jake looked up from the pan of beans and bacon that was spluttering
over the fire and grinned at her.

"Five minutes for breakfast."  He spooned a mess of food into her
pannikin and offered it to her.  "I thought about night travel to avoid
the heat but the chances of smashing up the cars on rough going was too
great."  Vicky took the food and ate with high relish, pausing only to
stare at Gareth Swales as he came to the fire freshly shaven and
perfectly groomed, wearing a spotless open-neck shirt and a baggy pair
of plus-four trousers in an expensive thorn-proof tweed.  His brogues
gleamed with polish, and he smoothed his golden moustaches and raised
an eyebrow when Jake exploded with delighted laughter.

"Jesus,"he laughed.  "Anyone for golf?"

"I say, old son, "Gareth admonished him, amiably running an eye over
Jake's faded moleskins,

scuffed Chukka boots and plaid shirt with a tear in the sleeve.  "Your
breeding is showing.  just because we are in Africa, there is no need
to go native, what?"  Then he glanced at Gregorius and flashed that
brilliant smile.  "No offence, of course.  I must say you look jolly
dashing in that get-up."  Gregorius swathed in his sham ma looked up
from his breakfast and returned the smile.  "East is east, and west is
west," he said.

"Old Wordsworth certainly knew his stuff," Gareth agreed, and dipped a
spoon into the pan.

The four vehicles, grotesquely burdened and strung out at intervals of
two hundred yards to avoid each other's dust, crawled out of the
coastal dunes into the vast littoral where the wind rustled endlessly
but brought no relief from the steadily rising heat.

Jake was pointing the column on a compass-bearing slightly southerly of
that which he would have chosen without Gregorius's advice.  They aimed
to pass below the sprawling salt pans which

Gregorius warned were treacherous going.

For the first two hours, the fluffy yellow earth offered no serious
obstacle to their passage, except that the narrow solid tyres cut in
deeply and created a wearying drag that kept the speed down below ten
miles an hour and the old engines grinding in the lower gears.

Then the earth firmed, but was strewn with black stone that had been
rounded and polished by the grit-laden wind and varied in size from
acorns to ostrich eggs.  Their speed dropped away a little more as the
cars bounced and jolted over this murderous surface, and the black rock
threw the heat back at them, so they rode with all hatches and
engine-louvres wide open.  Though all of them, including Vicky, had
stripped to their underwear, still they ran with sweat that dried
almost immediately it oozed from their pores.  The exposed metal of the
cars, although it was painted white, would blister the hand that
touched it, and the engine heat and stench of hot oil and fuel in the
driver's compartments was swiftly becoming unbearable as the sun
climbed to its zenith.

An hour before noon, Priscilla the Pig blew the safety valve on her
radiator and sent a shrieking plume of steam high into the air.

Jake earthed the magneto and stopped her immediately.  He climbed,

half-naked and shiny with sweat, from the turret and shaded his eyes to
peer out across the wavering heat-distorted plain.  There was no
horizon in this haze and visibility was uncertain after a few hundred
yards.

Even the other vehicles lumbering far behind him seemed monstrous and
unreal.

He waited for the others to come up before calling, "Switch off.

We can't go on in this.  the engine oil will be thin as water, and
we'll ruin all the bearings if we try.

We'll wait for it to cool a little."  Thankfully, they climbed from the
cars and crawled into the shade of the chassis where they lay panting
like dogs.  Jake went down the line with a five-gallon tin of
blood-warm.  water and gave them each as much as they could drink
before collapsing on the blanket beside Vicky.

"It's too hot to walk back to my own car," he explained, and she took
it with good grace, merely nodding and closing one more button of her
half-open blouse.

Jake wet his handkerchief from the water can and offered it to her.
Gratefully, she wiped her neck and face and sighed with pleasure.

"It's too hot to sleep," she murmured.  "Entertain me, Jake."

"Well now!"  he grinned, and she laughed.

"I said it's too hot.  Let's talk."

"About "About you.  Tell me about you what part of Texas are you
from?"

"All of it.  Wherever my pa could find work."

"What did he do?

"Wrangled cattle, and rode rodeo."

"Sounds fun."  Jake shrugged.

"I preferred machines to horses."

"Then?"

"There was this war, and they needed mechanics to drive tanks."

"Afterwards?  Why didn't you go home?"

"Pa was dead a steer fell on him, and it wasn't worth the journey to go
collect his old saddle and blanket."  They were silent for a while,
just lying and riding the solid waves of heat that came off the
earth.

"Tell me about your dream, Jake," she said at last.

"My dream?"

"Everybody has a dream."  He smiled ruefully..  "I've got a dream-" he
hesitated, "there is this idea of mine.  It's an engine, the Barton
engine.

It's all there."  He tapped his forehead.  "All I need is the money to
build it.  For ten years, I've tried to get it together.

Nearly had it a couple of times."

"After this trip, you will have it," she suggested.

"Perhaps."  He shook his head.  "I've been too sure too many times to
make any bets, though."

"Tell me about the engine," she said and he talked quietly but eagerly
for ten minutes.

It was a new design, a lightweight, economical design.  "It would drive
anything, water pump, saw mill, motorcycle, that sort of thing."

He was intent, happy, she saw.  "I'd only need a small workshop to
begin with, some place back west I've thought about Fort Worth-" he
stopped himself, and glanced at her.  "Sorry, I was running on a
bit."

"No," she said quickly.  "I enjoyed listening.  I hope it works out for
you, Jake."  He nodded.  "Thanks.  And they rode the heat for a few
more minutes in companionable silence.

"What's your dream?"  he asked at last, and she laughed lightly.

"No, tell me,"he insisted.

"There is this book.  It's a novel I have thought about it for years. I
have written it in my head a hundred times all I have to do is find the
time and the place to write it on paper--2 she broke off,

and then laughed again.  "And then, of course, it sounds corny but I

think about kids and a home.  I have been travelling too long."

"I know what you mean."  Jake nodded.  "That's a good dream you've got,
"he said thoughtfully.  "Better than mine."  Gareth Swales heard the
murmur of their voices and raised himself on one elbow.  For a while he
thought seriously about crossing the dozen yards of sunbaked black
stones to where they lay but the effort required was just too much and
he fell back.  A fist-sized rock jarred his kidneys and he cursed
quietly.

It was five o'clock before Jake judged they could start the engines
again.  They refuelled from the cans strapped on the sponsons,

and once more they set off in column at an agonized walking pace over
the rough surface, each jolt shaking driver and vehicle cruelly.

Two hours later, the plain of black boulders ended abruptly, and beyond
it stretched an area of low red sand hills.  Thankfully Jake increased
speed and the column sped towards a sunset that was inflamed by the
dust-laden sky until it filled half the heavens with great swirls of
purple and pink and flaming scar lets  The desert wind dropped and the
air was still and heavy with memory of the day's heat.

Each vehicle drew a long dark shadow behind it and threw up a fat
rolling sausage of red dust into the air above it.

The night fell with the tropical suddenness that is alarming to those
who have known only the gentle dusks of the northern continents.

Jake calculated that they had covered less than twenty miles in a day
of travel and he was reluctant to call a halt, now that they had hit
this level going and were bowling along with engine temperatures
dropping in the cool of night and the drivers" tempers cooling in
sympathy.  Jake took a bearing off Orion's belt as the easiest
constellation, then he switched on the headlights and looked back to
see that the others had followed his example.  The lights threw a
brilliant path a hundred yards ahead of Jake's car, giving him plenty
of time to avoid the odd thick clump of thorn scrub, and occasionally
trapping a large grey desert hare, dazzling it so that its eyes blazed
diamond bright before it turned and loped, long-legged, ahead of the
car, seemingly unable to break out of the path of light, dodging and
doubling with its long floppy ears laid along its back, until at the
last instant it ducked out from under the wheels and dived into the
darkness.

He was just deciding to call a halt for food and drink, with a possible
further march later that night, when the sand hills dropped away
gradually and in the headlights he saw ahead of him a glistening white
expanse of perfectly level sand, as smooth and as inviting as the

Brooklands motor-racing circuit.

Jake changed up into high gear for the first time that day, and the car
plunged forward eagerly for a hundred yards before the thick hard crust
of the salt pan collapsed and the heavy chassis fell through, belly
deep, floundering instantly so that Jake was thrown violently forward
at the abrupt halt, striking his shoulder and forehead painfully on the
steel visor.

The engine shrieked in the frenzy of high revolutions and lifting
valves before Jake recovered himself, then slammed the throttle
closed.

He dragged himself from the turret to signal a halt to the following
vehicles, and then mournfully clambered down to inspect the heavily
bogged vehicle.  Gareth walked out across the snowy surface of the
pan,

and stood beside him surveying the damage silently.

"Let him make one crack " Jake thought through the mists of his anger
and frustration.  He felt his hands curling into big bony hammers.

"Cheroot?"  Gareth offered him the case, and Jake felt his anger
deflate slightly.

"Good place to camp tonight," Gareth went on.  "We'll see about hauling
her out in the morning."  He clapped Jake's shoulder.  "Come on,

I'll buy you a warm beer."

"I was waiting for you to say something,

anything but that and I would have swung on you.  "Jake shook his
head

grinning with surprise at Gareth's perception.

"You think I didn't know that, old son?"  Gareth grinned back at him.

Vicky woke in the hours immediately after midnight when human vitality
is at its lowest, and the night was utterly silent except for the
gentle sound of one of the men snoring.  She recognized the sound from
the previous evening, and wondered which of them it was.

something like that could influence a girl's decision, she thought,
imagine sleeping every night of your life in a saw mill.

It was not that which had woken her, however.  Perhaps it was the cold.
The temperature had plunged in that phenomenal temperature range of the
desert, and she drew her blankets tighter over her shoulder and settled
to sleep ,again when the sound came again and she shot upright into a
rigid sitting position.

It was a long-drawn rolling, rattling sound, quite unlike anything she
had ever heard before.  The sound rose to a pitch which clawed her
nerves, and then ended in a series of deep gut-shaking grunts.  It was
so fierce and menacing a sound that she felt the slow ice of terror
spreading through her body.  She wanted to shout to the others, to wake
them, but she was afraid to draw attention to herself and she sat
frozen and wide-eyed in the next silence waiting for it to happen
again.

"It's all right, Miss Camberwell."  Vicky started at the quiet voice.
"It's miles away.  Nothing to worry about."  And she looked round to
see the young Ethiopian, still wrapped in his blankets watching her.

"My God, Greg what on earth is it?"

"A lion, Miss Camberwell,"

Gregorius .  explained, obviously surprised that she did not recognize
such a commonplace sound.

"A lion?  That is a lion roaring?"  She had not expected it to sound
anything like that.

"My people say that even a brave man is frightened three times by a
lion and the first time is when he hears it roar."

"I believe it,"

she whispered.  "I truly do."  And she picked up her blankets and went
to where Jake and Gareth slept on, undisturbed.  She lay down carefully
between them, and felt a little easier that the lion had now a wider
choice, but still she did not sleep, Count Aldo Belli had retired to
his tent with the sincerest and firmest resolve that in the morning he
would press forward to the Wells of Chaldi.  The General's pleas had
touched him.  Nothing would check him now, he decided, as he composed
himself to sleep.

He woke in the utter dark of the dog hours to find that the

Chianti he had drunk at dinner was now exerting internal pressure.

Where a lesser man might have slipped without ceremony from his bed to
deal with this problem, the Count did things in greater style.

He lay back on his pillows and let out a single loud bellow, and
immediately there was the frantic activity in the night, and within
minutes Gino had arrived with a bull's-eye lantern, hastily dressed in
a camel-hair gown, and tousle-haired and owl-eyed with sleep.  He was
followed by the Count's personal valet and his galloper, all in the
same state of freshly awoken bewilderment.

The Count stated his physical needs, and the dedicated group gathered
around his bed solicitously.  Gino helped him up as though he were an
invalid, the valet held a dressing gown of quilted blue Chinese silk,
embroidered with ferocious scarlet dragons, and then knelt to place a
calf-skin slipper on each of the Count's feet, while his aide hastened
to kick the Count's personal guard awake and fall them in outside the
tent.

The Count emerged from the tent and a small procession, well armed and
lighted, filed down to the latrine which had been dug exclusively for
the Count's personal use.  Gino entered first and checked the small
thatched edifice for snakes, scorpions and brigands.  Only when he
emerged and declared it safe did the Count enter.  His escort stood to
attention and listened respectfully to the copious outpouring taking
place within until they were interrupted by the sky shaking

earth-rattling, heart-stopping roar of a male lion.

The Count shot from the latrine, his face a startled glistening white
in the lantern light.

"Sweet and merciful Mother of God!"  he cried.  "What in the name of
Peter and all the saints is that?"  Nobody could answer him, in fact
nobody showed any interest in the question whatever, and the Count had
to move swiftly to catch up with his armed escort which had already
started back towards the bivouac in a sprightly fashion.

Once within the security of his own brightly lit tent, and surrounded
by his hastily assembled staff, the Count's pulse rate returned to
normal, and one of his officers suggested that the native

Eritrean guides be sent for and questioned on the terrible night sounds
that had plunged the entire battalion into consternation.

"Lion?"  said the Count, and then again, "Lion!"  Instantly the
formless terrors of the night evaporated, for by this time the first
light of dawn was gleaming in the east, and the Count's breast swelled
with the fierce instincts of the huntsman.

"It appears, my Colonel, that the beasts will be feeding on the
antelope carcasses that you left lying out on the desert," the
interpreter explained.  "The smell of blood has attracted them."

aGi no snapped the Count.  "Fetch the Mannlicher and have the driver
bring the Rolls-Royce to my tent immediately."  My Colonel,"
protested

Major Luigi Castelani.  "The battalion, by your own orders, is to march
at dawn."

"I Countermanded!"  snapped the Colonel.  Already he imagined the
magnificent trophy skin spread before his Louis XIV desk in the library
of his castle.  He would have it prepared with wide open jaws,

flashing white fangs and fierce yellow glass eyes.  The picture of open
jaws and fangs suddenly reminded him with considerable force of his
nerve racking brush with the beisa oryx.  "Major," he ordered, "I

want twenty men to accompany me, a truck to transport them, full battle
order, and one hundred rounds of ammunition each."  The Count was not
about to take any more silly chances.

The lion was a fully mature male, six years of age, and, like most of
the desert strain of leo panthers, he was much larger than the forest
lions.  He stood well over three feet high at the shoulder, and he
weighed in excess of four hundred pounds.  The late sun enhanced the
sleek reddish ochre of his skin and transformed his mane into a glowing
halo of gold.  The mane was dense and long, framing the broad flattened
head, reaching far back beyond the shoulder, and hanging so low under
his chest and belly as almost to sweep the earth.

He walked stiffly, head held very low and swinging heavily from side to
side with each laborious step.  His breathing came with a low explosive
grunt at each exhalation, and occasionally he stopped and swung his
head to snap irritably at the buzzing blue cloud of flies that swarmed
about the wound in his flank.  Then he would lick at the small dark
hole from which pale watery blood oozed steadily.

The long pink tongue curled out and, rough as shagreen, rasped against
the supple hide.  The constant licking had away the hair around the
wound, giving it a pale worn shaven appearance.

The 9.3 Marmlicher bullet had caught him at the instant he had begun to
turn away to run.  It had angled in from two inches behind the last
rib, striking with a force of nine tons that had bowled the lion down,
rolling him in a cloud of pale dust.  The copper-jacketed bullet was
tipped with soft expanding lead, and it mushroomed as it raked the
belly cavity, lacerating the bowels and tearing four large abdominal
veins.  The slug had passed close enough to the kidneys to bruise both
of them severely, so now, when the lion stopped, arched his back and
crouched to pass a spattering of bloodstained urine, he groaned like
the roll of drums at an execution.  Then, finally, the bullet had
struck the arch of the pelvic girdle and lodged there against the
bone.

After the first massive shock of impact, the lion had rolled to his
feet and flattened into a dead streaking run, jinking away below the
level of the coarse scrub.  Although a dozen more bullets had thrown up
soft jumping spurts of dust around him, one so close as to throw grit
into his eyes, not another touched him.

There had been seven lions in the pride.  Another older, heavier,

darker-maned male, two younger daintier breeding females, one with her
lithe-wasted body thickened with the heavy bearing of young in her
womb, and three immature animals still dappled with their cub spots and
boisterous as kittens.

The younger male was the only one to survive that long shattering roll
of rifle fire, and now as he moved on he felt the thick jelly-like
weight of congealing blood sloshing back and forth across his belly
cavity at each step.  There was a heavy lethargy slowing his
movements,

but thirst drove him onwards.  Thirst was a scalding agony that
consumed his whole body, and the lower pools of the Awash River were a
dozen miles ahead.

In the dawn Priscilla the Pig was heavily bogged down on her belly with
all four wheels helpless in the porridge of pale salt mire below the
crust of the pan.

Jake stripped to the waist and swung the long two handed axe
relentlessly, while the others gathered the piles of thorny scrub he
mowed down, and, cursing at the pricks and scratches, carried them out
across the snowy surface of the pan.

Jake worked with a self punishing fury, angry with his lack of
attention which had bogged the car and was going to cost them a day at
the least. It was no valid excuse that exhaustion and heat had clouded
his judgement that he had not recognized the treacherous smooth white
surface of the pan for Gregorius had warned him specifically of this
hazard.  He worked with the axe from an hour before sunrise until the
heat had climbed with the sun and a small mountain of cut branches
stood beside the car.

Then Gareth helped him build a firm foundation of flat stones and
thicker branches under the engine compartment of the car.  They had to
lie on their sides and grovel in the dust to get the big screw jack set
up on the base and they slowly lifted the front of the car, turning the
handle between them.

As the front wheels rose an inch at a time, Vicky and Gregorius packed
the wiry scrub branches under them.  It was slow and laborious work
which had to be repeated at the rear of the car.

it was past noon before Priscilla the Pig stood forlornly balanced on
four piles of compacted branches but her belly was clear of the surface
"What do we do now?"  Gareth asked.  "Drive her back?"

"One spin of the wheels will kick that trash out and she'll bog down
again," Jake grunted, and wiped his sweat glistening chest on the
bundled shirt in his hand.  He looked at Gareth and felt a flare of
irritation that after five hours" work in the sun, after grovelling on
his belly in the dust, and heaving on the jack handle, the man had
barely raised a/

sweat, his clothes were unmarked and final provocation his hair was
still neatly combed.

Working under Jake's direction, they cut and laid a corduroy of
branches back to the hard ground at the edge of the pan.  This would
distribute the weight of the vehicle and prevent it breaking through
the crust again.

Then Vicky manoeuvred and reversed Miss Wobbly down to the edge of the
pan and lined her up with the causeway of branches.  The men joined
three coils of the thick manila line and carried it out to the stranded
vehicle, unrolling it behind them as they went, until at last the two
cars were joined by that fragile thread.

Gareth climbed in and took the wheel of Priscilla while Jake and

Gregorius, armed with two of the thickest branches, stood ready to
lever the wheels.

"You any good at praying, Gary?  "Jake shouted.

"Not my strong suit, old son."

"Well, stiffen the old upper lip then.  "Jake mimicked him, and then
let out a bellow at Vicky who acknowledged with a wave before her
golden head disappeared into the driver's hatch of Miss Wobbly.  The
engine beat accelerated and the line came up taut as Miss Wobbly rolled
forward up the incline above the pan.

"Keep the wheels straight," shouted Jake, and he and Gregorius threw
their weight on the branches, giving just that ounce of leverage
sufficient to transfer part of the vehicle's weight on to the
corduroyed pathway.

Slowly, ponderously, the cumbersome vehicle rolled back across the pan,
until she reached the hard ground and the four of them shouted with
relief and triumph.

Jake retrieved two celebratory bottles of Tusker beer from his secret
hoard, but the liquid was so warm that half of it exploded in a fizzing
gush from the mouth of each bottle as it was opened, and there was only
a mouthful for each of them.

"Can we reach the lower Awash by nightfall?"  Jake demanded, and

Gregorius looked up and judged the angle of the sun before replying.

"If we don't waste any more time," he said.

Still on a compass heading, and giving the salt-white pans a wide
berth, the column ground on steadily into the west.

In the mid afternoon they reached the sand desert, with its towering
whale-backed dunes throwing lovely lyrical shadows in the hollows
between.  The colour of the sand varied from dark purple to the softest
pinks and talcum white, and was so fine and soft that the wind blew
long smoke-like plumes from the crest of each dune.

Under Gregorius's direction they turned northwards, and within half an
hour they had found the long narrow ridge of ironstone that bisected
the sand desert and formed a narrow causeway through the shifting
dunes.  They crept following its winding course slowly across this
rocky bridge, for twelve miles, while the dunes rose on each side of
them.

Vicky thought that this was much like the passage of the Red Sea by the
fleeing Israelites.  Even the dunes seemed like frozen waves that might
at each moment come crashing down to swamp them and she despaired that
she could ever adequately describe the wild and disordered beauty of
this multicoloured sea of sand.

They emerged at last and with startling suddenness into the dry flat
grasslands of the Ethiopian lowlands.  The desert proper was at last
behind them and although this was a harsh and and savannah,

there was, at least, the occasional thorn tree and an almost unbroken
carpet of se red grass the grass was so amongst the low thorny scrub.
Altho fine and dry that all colour had been bleached from it by the
sun, it shone silver and stiff as though coated with hoar frost.

Most cheering of all was the distant but discernible blue outline of
the far mountains.  Now they hovered at the edge of their awareness,

a far beacon calling them onward.

Over the short crisp grass, the four vehicles roared forward joyously,
bumping through an occasional ant-bear hole and flattening the clumps
of low them that stood in their way as they plunged ahead.

In the last glimmering of the day, just when Jake had decided to halt
the day's march, the flat land ahead of them opened miraculously and
they looked down into the steep boulder-strewn gorge of the Awash

River fifty feet below them.  They climbed out of the parked vehicles
and gathered stiffly in a small group on the lip of the ravine, "There
is Ethiopia, two hundred yards away.  It's two years since last I stood
upon the soil of my own country," said Gregorius, his big dark eyes
catching the last of the light.

He stopped himself and explained.  "The river rises in the high country
near Addis Ababa and comes down one of the gorges into the lowland.  A
short distance downstream from here it ends in a shallow swamp.  There
its waters sink away into the desert sand and disappear.

Here we are standing on French territory still, ahead of us is

Ethiopia, there far to the north is Italian Eritrea."

"How far is it to the Wells of Chaldi?"Gareth interrupted.

That for him was the end of the rainbow and the pot of gold.

Gregorius shrugged.  "Another forty miles, perhaps."

"How do we get across this lot?"  Jake muttered, staring down into the
dim depths of the ravine where the shallow pools still glowed dull
silver.

"Upstream there is an old camel route to J ibuti," Gregorius told him.
"We might have to dig out the banks a little, but I think we'll be able
to cross."

"I hope you are right," Gareth told him.  "It's a long way home, if we
have to go back."  The view of water that she had glimpsed in the
depths of the ravine haunted Vicky Camberwell during the night.  She
dreamed of foaming mountain streams and spilling waterfalls, of
moss-covered boulders, swaying green ferns about a deep cold pool, and
she awoke, restless and tired, with sweat plastering her hair to her
neck and forehead.  There was just the first promise of dawn in the
sky.

She thought that she was the only one awake and she crept into the
vehicle and fetched her towel and toilet bag, but as she jumped down to
the ground she heard the clink of spanner on steel and she saw Jake
stooped over the engine compartment of his car.

She tried to sneak away before he saw her, but he straightened
suddenly.

"Where are you going?"  he demanded.  "As if I didn't know.  Listen,
Vicky, I don't like you wandering around out of camp on your own."

"Jake Barton, I feel so filthy I can smell myself.  Nothing and nobody
is going to stop me getting down to the river."  Jake hesitated.  "I'd
better come down with you."

"This isn't the Folies Berg&e, my dear," she laughed, and he had
learned enough not to argue with this lady.  He watched her hurry to
the lip of the ravine and disappear down the steep slope with vague
misgivings, for which he could find no real substance.

The earth and loose stone rolled easily underfoot, and Vicky restrained
her impatience and picked her way carefully towards the water, until
she reached a narrow game trail that tipped down at a more comfortable
angle, and she followed it with relief.  Her footsteps, falling
silently on to the soft earth, followed faithfully the string of round
five- toed pad marks, larger than a saucer, which had been plugged
deeply by the heavy weight of the animal that had made them.  Vicky did
not look down, however, and if she had, it was doubtful if she would
have recognized what she was seeing.  The faintly reflected light of
the pools drew her like a beacon.

When she reached the bottom of the ravine, she found that the river was
so shrunken that it was no longer flowing.

The pools were shallow, stagnant and still warm from the previous day's
sun.  The storm waters of the awash had cut down through the softer
upper layers of earth until they exposed the sheet of hard black
ironstone that formed the floor of the ravine.

Vicky stripped off her sweat-damp clothing and stepped down into one of
the shallow pools, sighing with the pleasurable feel of water on her
skin.  She sat waist-deep and scooped handfuls of water over her face
and breasts, washing away the dust and salt-sticky sweat of the
desert.

Then she waded to the edge of the pool and selected a bottle of shampoo
from her bag.  The water was so soft that she swiftly worked up a thick
coating of white suds that covered her head and ran down her neck on to
her bare shoulders.

She rinsed the soap off and bound the towel around her wet head like a
turban, before kneeling in the shallow pool and soaping her entire
body, delighting at the slipperiness of the suds and their fragrance.
By the time she was finished, the light had strengthened and she knew
that the others would be up and chafing to resume the march.

She stepped out on to the flat black rock that surrounded the pool and
stood for a moment to feel the first gentle movement of the morning
breeze against her naked skin, and suddenly she had a strong sensation
that she was being watched.  She, turned swiftly, half crouching, her
hands flying instinctively to cover her bosom and her groin.

The eyes that watched her were of a savage golden colour, and the
pupils were glistening black slits.  The stare was steady and
unblinking.

The huge reddish-gold beast crouched on a level ledge of rock,

halfway up the far bank of the ravine.  It lay with its forepaws drawn
up under its chin, and there was a sense of deadly stillness about it
that was chilling, although Vicky did not readily recognize what she
was seeing.

Then very slowly the dark ruff of the mane came erect, swelling out
around the head and exaggerating its already impressive bulk.  Then the
tail twitched and began to slash back and forth with the steady beat of
a metronome.

Suddenly Vicky knew what it was.  She heard again in her imagination
the echoes of that terrible sound in the night and she screamed.

Jake had just completed the adjustments he was making to the ignition
of his car and closed the engine cowling.  He picked up the fluted
bottle of Scrubbs Cloudy Ammonia to dissolve the grease from his hands.
At that instant he heard the scream and he began to run without a
conscious thought.

The scream was so high and shrill, an expression of mortal terror,

that Jake's heart raced in sympathy and when the scream came again, if
anything shriller still, he leaped the bank and went sliding and
running down the steep slope of the ravine.

It was only seconds from when he heard the first scream until he came
skidding and sliding down on to the rocky floor of the ravine beside
the pool.

He saw the naked girl crouching at the edge of the pool, both hands
pressed to her mouth.  Her body was pale and slim, with the small tight
round buttocks of a lad and long graceful legs.

"Vicky," he shouted.  "What is it?"  And she turned quickly to him,

her breasts swinging heavily at the movement, round and white with
large pink nipples standing out tightly with cold and shock.  Even in
the extremity of the moment, he could not help but glance down at the
smooth velvety plain of her belly and the fluffy dusky triangle at its
base.  Then she was running towards him on those long coltish legs, and
her face was deadly white, and the speckled green eyes huge and
swimming with rampant terror.

"Jake," she cried.  "Oh God, Jake," and then he saw movement beyond
her, halfway up the bank of the water course.

The wound had stiffened during the night, almost paralysing the lion's
hindquarters, and the torn entrails were leaking poison and infection
into the belly cavity.  It had slowed the animal so drastically that
the natural reflexive anger which the sight of a human form had roused
was not strong enough to precipitate the charge.

However, the sound of the human voice immediately invoked memories of
the hunters who had inflicted this terrible aching agony "and the anger
flared higher.

Then suddenly there was another of the hated two-legged figures,

more noise and movement, all of this enough to counter the stiffness
and paralysing lethargy.  The lion rose slightly out of his crouch and
he growled.

Jake ran four paces to meet Vicky and she tried to throw her arms about
his neck for protection, but he avoided the embrace and grasped her
upper arm with his left hand, his fingers digging so deeply into her
flesh that the pain steadied her.  Using the impetus of her run, he
swung her on towards the path that climbed the slope.

"Run," he shouted.  "Keep running."  And he turned back to face the
crippled animal as it launched itself from the ledge into the bed of
the river.

It was only then that Jake realized that he still carried a full bottle
of Scrubbs Ammonia in his hand.  The lion came bounding swiftly through
the shallow stagnant pool towards him.  Despite the wounds, it followed
with lithe and sinuous menace.  it was so close that he could see each
stiff white whisker in the curled upper lip and hear the rattle of air
in its throat.  He let it come on, for to turn and run was suicide.

At the last moment he reared back like a baseball pitcher and hurled
the bottle.  It was an instinctive action, using the only weapon
however puny that was at hand.

The bottle flew straight at the lion's head, catching it in the direct
centre of its broad forehead as it lunged smoothly upwards towards the
ledge where Jake stood.

The bottle exploded in a burst of sparkling glass splinters and a
creamy gush of the pungent liquid.  It filled both the lion's eyes,

blinding it instantly, and the stench of concenits open mouth and
flaring nostrils killed trated ammonia in its sense of smell and
shocked its whole system so violently that it missed its footing and
fell, roaring with the agony of scalded eyeballs and burning throat,

into the shallow water where it rolled helplessly on its back.

Jake ran forward, seizing the few seconds of advantage he had gained.
He stooped to pick up a water-worn ironstone boulder the shape and size
of a football, and swung it up above his head with both hands.

As he poised himself on the ledge above the pool, the lion recovered
its balance and came up at him blindly.  Jake swung the boulder down
from on high and, like a cannon ball, it smashed into the back of the
animal's neck, where the sodden mane covered the juncture of skull and
vertebrae, crushing both so that the dreadfully mutilated beast
collapsed and rolled on to its side, half in the water and half on the
black rock ledge.

For long seconds Jake stood over it, panting with exertion and
reaction, then he leaned forward and touched with his fingertip the
long pale lashes that fringed the lion's open staring golden eye.

Already the sheen of the eyeball was clouded by the corrosive liquid.

At Jake's touch there was no blinking reflex, and he knew that the
animal was dead.

He turned to find that Vicky had not obeyed his instruction to run. She
stood frozen where he had left her, naked and vulnerable, so that he
felt his heart shift within him and he went to her quickly.

With a sob she flew into his arms and clung to him with startling
strength.  Jake knew that the embrace was the consequence of terror not
affection, but as his own heart-beat slowed and the tingle of the
adrenalin in his blood receded, he thought that he had achieved a solid
advantage.  If you save a girl's life, she just has to take you
seriously, he reasoned, and grinned to himself still a little
unsteadily.  All his senses were enhanced by the high point of recent
danger.  He could smell the perfumed soap and the stink of ammonia.  He
could feel with excruciating clarity the slim hard length of the girl's
body pressed to his and the smooth warmth of her skin under his
hands.

"Oh Jake!"  she whispered brokenly, and with sudden aching certainty he
knew that in this moment she was his to take, to possess right here on
the black rock bank of the Awash, beside the warm carcass of the
lion.

The knowledge was certain and his hands moved on her body,

receiving instant confirmation her body was quick and responsive, and
her face turned up to his.  Her lips trembled and he could feel her
breath upon his mouth.

"What the hell is going on down there?"  Gareth's voice rang across the
murky depths of the gorge.  He stood at the top of the bank high above
them.  He had one of the Lee Enfield bolt-action rifles under his arm
and seemed on the point of coming down to them.

Jake turned Vicky, shielding her with his own big body and slipping off
his moleskin jacket to cover her nakedness.

The jacket reached halfway down her thighs and folded voluminously
around under her armpits.  She was still shivering like a kitten in a
snowstorm, and her breathing was broken and thick.

"Don't worry about it," Jake called up at Gareth.  "You weren't in time
to help, and you aren't needed now."  He groped in his hip pocket and
Produced a large, slightly grubby handkerchief, which Vicky accepted
with a tearful, quivering smile.

"Blow your nose," said Jake.  "and get your pants on, before the whole
gang arrives to give you a hand."  regorius was so impressed that he
was speechless for several minutes.  In Ethiopia there is no act of
ivalour so highly esteemed as the single-handed hunting and killing of
a full-grown adult lion, The warrior who accomplishes this feat wears
the mane thereafter as a badge of his courage and earns the respect of
all.  The man who shoots his lion is respected, and the man who kil
with a spear is venerated.  - Gregorius had never heard of one killed
with a single rock and a bottle of ammonia.

Gregorius skinned out the carcass with his own hands.

Before he had finished, the black pinioned vultures were sailing in
wide circles overhead.  He left the naked pink carcass lying in the
river bed, and carried the wet skin up to the bivouac where Jake was
fretting to continue the trek towards the Wells.  He was irreverent in
his disdain of the trophy, and Greg tried to explain it to him.

"You will gain great prestige amongst my people, Jake.

Wherever you go, people will point you out to each other."

"Fine

Greg.  That's just fine.  Now will you kindly haul arse.

"I will have a war bonnet made for you out of the mane, Greg insisted,
as he strapped the bundle of wet skin to the sponson of Jake's car.
"With the hair combed out, it will look very grand."

"It could only be an improvement on his present hair style," Gareth
observed drily.  "I agree it's been a beautiful honeymoon, and Jake is
a splendid lad but like he said, let's move on, before I am violently
ill."  As they moved towards their respective cars, Gregorius fell in
beside Jake and quietly showed him the mushroomed copper-jacketed
bullet he had removed from its niche in the pelvic bone of the
carcass.

Jake paused to examine it closely, turning it in the palm of his
hand.

"Nine millimeter, or nine point three," he said.  "It's a sporting
calibre not military."

"I doubt if there is a single rifle in

Ethiopia that would fire this bullet," said Greg seriously.  "It's a
foreigner's rifle."

"No need to blow the bugle yet," said Jake, and flicked the bullet back
to him.  "But we'll bear it in mind."  Gregorius almost turned away,
then said shyly, "Jake, even if the lion was already wounded it's still
the bravest thing I ever heard of.  I have often hunted for them, but
never killed one yet."  Jake was touched by the boy's admiration.  He
laughed roughly and slapped his shoulder.

"I'll leave the next one for you," he promised.

They followed the windings of the River Awash through the savannah
grassland, moving in towards the mountains so that with each hour
travelled the peaks stood higher and clearer into the sky.  The ridges
of rock and the deep-forested gorges came into hazy focus, like a wall
across the sky.

Suddenly they intersected the old caravan road, hitting it at a point
where the steep banks of the Awash flattened a little.  The ford of the
river had been deeply worn over the ages by the passage of laden beasts
of burden and the men who drove them, so that the many footpaths down
each bank were deep trenches in the red earth, that jinked to avoid any
large boulder or ridge of rock.

The three men worked in the brilliant sunlight and swung shovel and
mattock in a fine mist of red dust that powdered their hair and bodies.
They filled in the uneven ground and deeply worn trenches,

levering the boulders free and letting them roll and bounce down into
the river bed, and slept that night the deathlike sleep of utter
exhaustion that ignored the ache of abused muscle and burst blisters.

Jake had them at work before it was fully light the next morning,

clearing and levelling, shovelling and packing the dry hard-baked
earth, until at last each bank had been shaped into a rough but
passable ramp.

Gareth was to take the first car through and he stood in the turret,
somehow managing to look debonair and sartorially elegant,

under the fine layer of red dust.  He grinned at Jake and shouted
dramatically, "Noli il legitimi carborundum," and disappeared into the
steel interior  The engine roared and he went bounding and sliding down
the steep ramp of newly turned earth, bounced and jolted across the
black rock bottom and flew at the far bank.

When the wheels spun viciously in the loose red earth, blowing out a
storm of grit and pebbles, Jake and Gregorius were ready to throw their
weight against it and this was just sufficient to keep the vehicle
moving.  Slowly it ground its way up the almost vertical climb,

the rear end kicking and yawing under the thrust of the spinning
wheels, until at last it burst out over the top, and Gareth shut down
the power and jumped out laughing.

"Right, now we can tow the other cars up the bank," and he produced a
celebratory cheroot.

"What was that piece of dog Latin you recited just then Jake asked, as
he accepted the cheroot.

"Old family war cry," Gareth explained.  "Shouted by the fighting

Swales at Hastings, gin court and in the knocking shops of the
world."

aW hat does it mean?"

"Nob Xegidmi carborundum?"  Gareth grinned again as he lit the
cheroots.  "It means, "Don't let the bastards grind you down"."  One at
a time, they brought the other three cars down into the ravine, and
hitched them up to the vehicle on the far bank.  Then with

Vicky driving, Gareth towing, and Jake and Gregorius shoving, they
hauled them up on to the level, sunbaked soil of Ethiopia.  It was late
afternoon when at last they fell panting in the long shadow thrown by

Miss Wobbly's chassis, to rest and smoke and drink steaming mugs of
hastily brewed tea.  Gregorius told them: "No more obstacles ahead of
us now.  It's open ground all the way to the Wells," and then he smiled
at the three of them with white teeth in a smooth honey-coloured
face.

"Welcome to Ethiopia!"

"Quite frankly, old -chap, I'd much prefer to be sitting at Harry's Bar
in the rue Daunou," said Gareth soberly which is exactly what I will be
doing not long after Toffee Sagud presses a purse of gold into my
milk-white hand."  Jake stood up suddenly and peered out into the
dancing heat waves that still poured from the hot earth like swirling
liquid.  Then he ran quickly across to his own car and leapt up into
the turret, emerging seconds later with his binoculars.

The others stood up uneasily and watched him focus the glasses.

"Rider," said Jake.

"How many?  "Gareth demanded.

"Just the one.  Coming this way fast.  "Gareth moved across to fetch
the Lee-Enfield and work a cartridge into the breech.

They saw him now, galloping through the dizzy heat mirage, so that at
one moment horse and rider seemed to float free of the earth, and then
sink back and swell miraculously, growing to elephantine proportions in
the heat-tortured air.  Dust drifted behind the running horse and it
was only at close range that the rider came into crisp focus.

Gregorius let out a bellow like a rutting stag and raced out into the
sunshine to meet the newcomer.  In a brilliant display of horsemanship
the rider reined in the big white stallion so abruptly that he plunged
and reared, cutting at the air with his fore hooves

With white robes billowing, he flung himself from the horse, and into

Gregorius's widespread arms.

The two figures joined together rapturously, the stranger suddenly
seeming small and delicate in Gregorius's arms, and the cries of
laughter and greeting high and birdlike.

Then hand in hand, looking into each other's faces, they came back to
the group that waited by the cars.

"My God, it's another girl," said Gareth with amazement, setting the
loaded rifle aside, and they all stared at the slim, dark-eyed child in
her late teens with a skin like dusky silk and immense dark eyes
fringed with long curling lashes.

"May I introduce Sara Sagud?"  asked Gregorius.  "She is my cousin, my
uncle's youngest daughter, and she is also without doubt the prettiest
lady in Ethiopia."

"I see what you mean," said Gareth.  "Very decorative indeed."  As
Gregorius, introduced each of them to her by name, the girl smiled at
them, and the long aristocratic face with the serenity of an Egyptian
princess, the delicate features and chiselled nose of a Nefertiti,
changed instantly to a sparkling childlike mischievousness.

"I knew you must cross the Awash here, it is the only place and

I came to meet you."

"She speaks English also," Gregorius pointed out proudly.

"My grandfather insists that all his children and his grand.

children learn to speak English.  He is a great lover of the

English."

"You speak it well," Vicky congratulated Sara, although in fact her
English was heavily accented, and the girl turned to her,

smiling anew.

"The sisters at the convent of the Sacred Heart in Berbera taught me,"
she explained, and she examined Vicky with frank and unabashed
admiration.  "You are very beautiful, Miss Camberwell, your hair is the
colour of the winter grass in the highlands," and Vicky's usual
composure was rocked.

She blushed faintly and laughed, but Sara's attention had flicked away
to the armoured cars.

"Ah, they also are beautiful nobody has spoken of anything else,

since they heard these were coming."  She hoisted the skirts of her
robe up over her tight-fitting embroidered breeches, and hopped agilely
up on to the steel body of Miss Wobbly.  "With these we shall throw
the

Italians back into the sea.  Nothing can stand before the courage of
our warriors and these fine war machines."  She flung her arms wide in
a dramatic gesture and then turned.

to Jake and Gareth.  "I am honoured to be the first of all my people to
thank you."

"Don't mention it, my dear girl," Gareth murmured, "our pleasure, I
assure you."  He refrained from asking if her father had remembered to
bring the cash with him, but asked instead,

"aAre your people waiting for us at the Wells?"

"my grandfather has come with my father and all my uncles.  His
personal guard is with him, and many hundreds of others of the Harari,
together with their women and animals."

"My God," growled Jake "It sounds like a helluva reception committee."
They camped that last night of the journey on the bank of the Awash
under the spreading umbrella branches of a camel thorn tree, sitting
late and talking in the ruddy flickering glow of the fire, secure
within the square fort formed by the four hulking steel vehicles.  At
last the talk died away into a weary but friendly silence, and Vicky
stood up.

"A short walk for me, and then bed."  Sara stood with her.  "I'll come
with you."  Her fascination with and admiration for Vicky was
increasingly apparent, and she followed her out of the laager like a
faithful puppy.

Away from the camp, they squatted side by side in companionable fashion
under a night sky splendid with star shot, and Sara told Vicky
seriously, "They both desire you greatly Jake and Gareth."  Vicky
laughed awkwardly again, once more discomposed by the girl's direct
manner.

"Oh, come now."

"Oh yes, when you come near them, they are like two dogs, all stiff and
walking around each other as though they will sniff each other up the
tail."  Sara giggled, and Vicky had to smile with her.

"Which one will you choose, Miss Camberwell?"  Sara demanded.

"Lardy, do I have to?  "Vicky was still smiling.

"Oh no," Sara reassured her.  "You can make love with both of them.  I
would do so."

"You would?  "Vicky asked.

"Yes, I would.  What other way can you tell which one you like best?"

"That's true."  Vicky was becoming breathless with suppressed laughter,
but fascinated by this bit of logic.  The idea had a certain appeal,
she admitted to herself.

"I will make love with twenty men before I marry Gregorius.  That way I
will be sure I have missed nothing, and I will not regret it when

I am old," declared the girl.

"Why twenty, Sara?"  Vicky tried to keep her voice as serious as the
girl's.  "Why not twenty-three or twenty-six?"  Oh no," said Sara
primly.  "I would not want people to think me a loose woman," and Vicky
could hold her laughter no longer.

"But you-" Sara returned to the immediate problem.

"Which of them will you try first?"

"You pick for me," Vicky invited.

"It is difficult," Sara admitted.  "One is very strong and has much
warmth in his heart, the other is very beautiful and will have much
skill."  She shook her head and sighed.  "It is very difficult.

No, I cannot choose for you.  I can only wish you much joy."  The
conversation had disturbed Vicky more than she realized, and
although-she was exhausted by the long hard driven day, she could not
sleep, but lay restlessly under a single blanket on the hard sun-warmed
earth, considering the wicked and barely thinkable thoughts that the
girl had sown in her mind.  So it was that she was still awake when

Sara rose from beside her and, silently as a wraith, crossed the laager
to where Gregorius lay.  The girl had discarded the robe and wore only
the skintight velvet breeches, encrusted with silver embroidery.  Her
body was slim and Polished as ebony in the light of the stars and the
new moon.  She had small high breasts and a narrow moulded waist.  She
stooped over Gregorius and instantly he rose, and hand in hand,

carrying their blankets, the pair slipped out of the laager, leaving

Vicky more disturbed than ever.  She is of the desert.  Once she lay
and listened to the night sound thought she heard the soft cry of a
human voice in the darkness, but it may have been only the plaintive
yelp of a Jackal.  The two young Ethiopians had not returned by the
time Vicky at last fell asleep.

The radio message that Count Aldo Belli received from General De

Bono on the seventh day after leaving Asmara caused him much pain and
outrage.

"The man addresses me as an inferior," he protested to his officers. He
shook the yellow sheet from the message pad angrily before reading in a
choked voice, "I hereby directly order you"."  He shook his head in
mock disbelief "No "request", no "if you please", you notice."  He
crumpled the message sheet and hurled it against the canvas wall of the
headquarters tent and began pacing in a magisterial manner back and
forth, with one hand on the butt of his pistol and the other on the
handle of his dagger.

"It seems he does not understand my messages.  It seems that I

must explain my position in person He thought about this with
burgeoning enthusiasm.  The discomfort of the drive back to Asmara
would be greatly reduced by the superb upholstery and suspension
designed by Messrs Rolls and Royce and would be more than adequietely
offset by the quasi-civilized amenities of the town.  A marble bath,

clean laundry, cool rooms with high ceilings and electric fans, the
latest newspapers from Rome, the company of the dear and kind young
hostesses at the casino all this was suddenly immensely attractive.

Furthermore, it would be an opportunity to supervise the curing and
packaging of the hunting trophies he had so far accumulated.  He was
anxious that the lion skins were correctly handled and the numerous
bullet holes were properly patched.  The further prospect of reminding
the General of his background, upbringing and political expendability
also had much appeal.

"Gino," he bellowed abruptly, and the Sergeant dashed into the tent,
automatically focusing his camera.

"Not now!  Not now!"  The Count waved the camera aside testily.

"We are going back to Asmara for conference with the General.  Inform
my driver accordingly."  Twenty-four hours later, the Count returned
from Asmara in a mood of bile and thunder.  The interview with
General

De Bono had been one of the low points in the Count's entire life.  He
had not believed that the General was serious in his threat to remove
him from his command and pack him off ignobly back to Rome until the

General had actually begun dictating the order to his smirking aide
de-camp, Captain Crespi.

The threat still hung over the Count's handsome curly head.  He had
just twelve hours to reach and secure the Wells of Chaldi or a
second-class cabin on the troopship GaribaLdi, sailing five days later
from Massawa for Napoli, had been reserved for him by the General.

Count Aldo Belli had sent a long and eloquent cable to Benito

Mussolini, describing the General's atrocious behaviour, and had
returned in high pique to his battalion completely unaware that the

General had anticipated his cable, intercepted it and quietly
suppressed it.

Major Castelani did not take the order to advance seriously,

expecting at any moment the counter-order to be given, so it was with a
sense of disbelief and rising jubilation that he found himself actually
aboard the leading truck, grinding the last dusty miles through rolling
landscape towards the setting sun and the Wells of Chaldi.

The heavy rainfall precipitated by the bulk of the Ethiopian massif was
shed from the high ground by millions of cascades and runners,

pouring down into the valleys and the lowlands.  The greater bulk of
this surface water found its devious way at last into the great
drainage system of the Sud marshes and from there into the Nile
River,

flowing northwards into Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.

A smaller portion of the water found its way into blind rivers like the
Awash, or simply streamed down and sank Without trace in the soft sandy
soils of the savannah and desert.

One set of exceptional geological circumstances that altered this
general rule was the impervious sheet of schist that stretched out from
the foot of the mountains and ran in a shallow saucer below the red
earth of the plain.  Runoff water from the highlands was contained and
channelled by this layer, and formed a long narrow underground
reservoir stretching out like a finger from the base of the Sardi

Gorge, sixty miles into the dry hot savannah.

Closer to the mountains, the water ran deep, hundreds of feet below the
earth's surface, but farther out, the slope of the land combined with
the raised lip of the schist layer forced the water up to within
forty-five feet of the surface.

Thousands of years ago the area had been the grazing grounds of large
concentrations of wild elephant.  These indefatigable borers for water
had detected the presence of this subterranean lake.  With tusk and
hoof they had dug down and reached the surface of the water.

Hunters had long since exterminated the elephant herds, but their wells
had been kept open by other animals, wild ass, oryx, camel, and, of
course, by man who had annihilated the elephant.

Now the wells, a dozen or more in an area of two or three square miles,
were deep excavations into the bloodred earth.  The sides of the wells
were tiered by narrow worn paths that wound down so steeply that
sunlight seldom penetrated to the level of the water.

The water itself was highly mineralized, so that it had a milky green
appearance and a rank metallic taste, but nevertheless it had supported
vast quantities of life over the centuries.  And the vegetation in the
area, with its developed root systems, drew sustenance from the deep
water and grew more densely and greenly than anywhere else on the dry
bleak savannah.

Beyond the wells, in the direction of the mountains, was an area of
confused broken ground, steep but shallow wadis and square hillocks so
low as to be virtually only mounds of dense red laterite.  Over the
ages, the shepherds and hunters who frequented the wells had burrowed
into the sides of ravine and hillock, so that they were now honeycombed
with caves and tunnels.

It was as though nature had declared a peace upon the wells.  Here man
and animal came together in wary truce that was seldom violated.

Amongst the grey-green thorn trees and dense scrub goat and camel
grazed in company with gazelle and gerenuk, oryx and greater kudu.

n In the hush of noo', the column of four armoured cars came in from
the east, and the hum of their engines carried at distance to the
multitude that awaited their arrival.

Jake led, as usual, followed by Vicky, then came Gregoritis with

Sara riding in the turret of his car and the white stallion trailing
them on a long lead rein.  In the rear rode Gareth.  Suddenly Sara
shrieked at such a high pitch that her voice carried over the engine
noise and she pointed ahead to the low valley filled with green scrub
and taller denser trees.  Jake halted the column and climbed up into
the turret.

Through his binoculars he studied the open forest, and then.

started as he discerned a horde of moving figures coming headlong on
wings of fine pale dust.

"My God," he muttered aloud.  "there must be hundreds of them," and he
felt a stab of uneasiness.  They looked anything but friendly.

At that moment, he was distracted by the sound of galloping hooves
close by, and Sara came dashing past him.

She was mounted bareback on the white stallion, her robes streaming and
fluttering in the sun-bright wind.  She was shouting with almost
hysterical excitement as she galloped to meet the oncoming riders and
her behaviour reassured Jake a little.  He signalled the column forward
once again.

The first ranks came swiftly in dust clouds, on running camels and
galloping shaggy horses.  Fierce, dark-faced men in billowing robes of
dirty white, and a motley of other colours.  Urging forward their
mounts with wild cries, brandishing the small round bronze and iron
studded and bossed war shields, they came racing towards the column.

As they approached, they split into two wings and tore headlong past
the startled drivers in a solid wall of moving men and animals.

Most of the men were bearded, and here and there some warrior wore
proudly a great fluffy headdress of lion mane proclaiming his valour to
the world.  The manes rippled and waved on the wind as the riders drove
by, urging on their mounts with the high "Looloo" ululations so
characteristic of the Ethiopians.

The weapons they carried amazed Gareth, who as a professional dealer
recognized twenty different types and makes, each one of them a
collector's piece from the long muzzle-loading Tower muskets with the
fancy hammers over percuss ion caps, through a range of Martini Henry
carbines, which fired a heavy lead bullet in a cloud of black powder
smoke, to a wide selection of Mousers; and Schneiders, Lee-Metfords,

and obsolete models from half the arms-manufacturers of the world.

As the riders swept by, they fired these weapons into the air,

long spurts of black powder against the evening sky, and the crackle of
musketry blended with the fierce ululations of welcome.

After the first wave of riders came another of those on mules and
donkeys moving more slowly but making as much noise and immediately
after them came a swarming mob of running, howling foot soldiers,

mingled with whom were women and shrieking children, and dozens of
yelping dogs, scrawny yellow curs with long whippy tails and ridges of
standing hair running down their skeletal backbones.

As the first rank of riders turned, still loolooing and firing into the
air, to complete the encirclement of the armoured column, they ran
headlong into the following rabble and the entire congregation became a
struggling mob of men and animals.

Jake saw a mother with a child under her arm go down under the hooves
of a running camel, the child flying from her grip and rolling in the
sandy earth.  Then he was past, forging ahead through a narrow path in
the sea of humanity.

Sara was keeping the path open, leading them in, riding just ahead of
Jake's car, laying about her viciously with a long quirt of hippo hide
to hold back the mob, while around her wheeled the wildly excited
riders still firing their pieces into the air, and dozens of runners
pressed in closely, trying to climb aboard the moving cars.

Gradually the press of bodies and animals built up, until at last,

following Sara, they moved slowly through the open forest that
surrounded the wells into one of the shallow but steeply sided wadis in
the broken ground beyond.

Here any further forward movement became impossible.

The wadi was choked solidly with humanity, even the steep earthen sides
and the ledges above were crowded so closely that unfortunates,

pushed by those behind, could no longer keep their Position and came
tumbling down the sheer sides on to the heads of those in the wadi
below.  The cries of protest were lost in the general hubbub.

From each of the turrets, the heads of the four drivers appeared
timidly, like gophers peering out of their holes.

They made helpless signs and expressions at each other, unable to
communicate in the uproar.

Sara leaped from the back of the stallion on to the sponson of Jake's
car and began raining blows and kicks on those who were still
attempting to climb aboard the vehicle.  She was enjoying herself
immensely, Jake realized, as he noticed the battle lust in her eyes and
heard the crack of her whip and the yelps of her victims.  He thought
of trying to restrain her and then discarded the idea as being highly
dangerous.  Instead, he looked about distractedly for some other means
to subdue the boisterous welcome and noticed for the first time the
entrances to numerous caves in the sides of the wadi.

From a number of these dark openings now poured a body of men,

wearing a semblance of uniform jodhpurs and baggy khaki tunics, their
chests crossed with bandoliers of ammunition, put teed calves and bare
feet, high turbans bound around their heads and Mauser rifles swinging
heartily, the butts used as clubs.  They were every bit as enthusiastic
as Sara, but considerably more successful in their attempts to quieten
the crowd.

"My grandfather's guards," Sara explained to Jake, still panting and
grinning happily from her recent exertions.  "I am sorry, Jake, but
sometimes my people get excited."

"Yeah," said Jake.  "So I noticed."

With gun butts rising and falling the guards cleared a space around the
four laden vehicles, and the noise dropped in volume until it was
equivalent to a medium-sized avalanche.  The four drivers climbed
warily down and came together in a defensive group in the small stretch
of open ground before the caves.  Vicky Camberwell placed herself
strategically between Jake and Gareth and behind the lanky robed figure
of Gregorius and she felt even more secure when Sara slipped up beside
her and took her hand.

"Please do not worry," she whispered.  "We are all your friends."

"You could have fooled me, honey."  Vicky smiled back at her, and
squeezed the slim brown hand.  At that moment a procession emerged from
the caves, headed by four coal-black priests of the Coptic Christian

Church in their gaudy robes, chanting in Amharic, swinging incense and
carrying ornate, if crudely wrought bronze crosses.

Immediately after the priests followed a figure so tall and thin as to
appear a caricature of the human shape.  A long flowing sham ma of
yellow and red stripes hung loosely on the gaunt frame.  There was the
suggestion of legs as long and as thin as those of an ostrich beneath
the skirts of the robe as he strode forward, and the man's dark head
was completely bald of hair no beard or eyebrows just a round
glistening pate.

His eyes were completely enclosed in a web of deep wrinkles and fleshy
folds of old dried-out skin.  The mouth was utterly toothless,

so that the jaw seemed to be collapsible, folding the face in half like
the bellows of a concertina.

He gave an impression of vast age that was offset immediately by the
youthful spring in his step and the twinkle in the black birdlike eyes,
and yet Gareth realized that he could not be less than eighty years
old.

Gregorius hurried forward and knelt briefly for the old man's blessing,
while Sara whispered to the group.

"This is my grandfather, Ras Golam" she explained.  "He speaks no

English, but he is a great nobleman and a mighty warrior the bravest in
all Ethiopia."  The Ras ran a lively eye over the group and selected

Gareth Swales, resplendent in Thorn-proof tweeds.  He leapt forward
and, before Gareth could avoid it, enfolded him in an embrace that was
redolent of powerful native tobacco, woodsmoke, and other heady
odours.

"How do you do?"  shouted the Ras, his only words of English.

"My grandfather is a great lover of the English," explained

Gregorius, as Gareth struggled in the Ras's embrace.  "That is why all
his sons and grandsons are sent to England."

"He has a decoration which even makes him an English milord," Sara told
them proudly, and pointed to her grandfather's chest where nestled a
star of gaudy enamel and shiny paste chips.

Noticing the gesture, the Ras released Gareth and invited them to
admire the decoration, and, on his other breast, a rosette of tricolour
silk in the centre of which was a framed miniature of the old Queen

Victoria herself.

"Tremendous, old boy absolutely tremendous" Gareth agreed, as he
re-adjusted the lapels of his jacket and smoothed back his hair.

"When he was a young man, my grandfather did a great service to the
Queen and that is why he is now an English milord," Sara explained, and
then she broke off to listen to her grandfather, and to translate.  "My
grandfather welcomes you to Ethiopia, and says that he is proud to
embrace such a distinguished English gentleman.  He has heard from my
father of your fame s a warrior, that you bear the great

Queen's medal for courage-"

"Actually, it was Georgie Five's gong,"

Gareth demurred modestly.

At that moment, the dignified figure of Lij Mikhael Sagud stepped from
the entrance of the cave behind the Ras.

"My father recognizes only one English monarch, my dear Swales,"

he explained quietly.  "It is useless to try and convince him that she
has passed away."  He shook hands with all three of them, with a quick
word of welcome for Jake and Vicky before turning back to listen to
the

Ras again.

"My father asks if you have brought your medal he wishes you to wear it
when you and he ride into battle side by side against the enemy," and
Gareth's expression changed.

"Now hold on there, old fellow," he protested.  Gareth had no intention
of riding into another battle in his life, but the moment had passed
and the Ras was shouting orders to his guard.

In response, they clambered aboard the armoured cars, and began
unloading the wooden cases of weapons and ammunition which they stacked
in the clearing before the caves, beating back the eager crowds that
pressed forward.

Now the priests came forward to bless the cars and weapons of war,

and Sara took the opportunity to pull Vicky away and lead her
unobtrusively to one of the caves.

"My servants will bring you water to bathe," she whispered.  "You must
look beautiful for the feast.  Perhaps we will decide which one it will
be tonight."  As night fell, so "the entire following of Ras

Golarri gathered in the main wadi, those ranking highest or with most
push managing to find seating in the large central cave while the
others filled the valley with row upon row of seated and robed
figures.

The whole scene was lit by leaping bonfires.

The fires reflected against the night sky with a faint orange glow
which Major Luigi Castelani noticed at a distance of twenty kilometres
from the Wells.

He halted the column and climbed up on the roof of the leading truck to
study this phenomenon, uncertain at first if the light of the fires was
some freak afterglow of the sunset, but soon realizing that this was
not the case.

He jumped down and snapped at the driver, "Wait for me," before
striding rapidly back along the long column of tall canvas-covered
trucks to where the command car stood at the centre.

"My Colonel."  Castelani saluted the sulking figure of the Count who
slumped on the rear seat of the Rolls with one hand thrust into the
front of his unbuttoned tunic, much like the defeated Napoleon
returning from Moscow.  Aldo Belli had not yet recovered from the shock
to his pride and self-esteem inflicted by the General.  He had
temporarily withdrawn from the vulgar world, and he did not even look
up as Castelani made his report.

"Do what you think correct in the circumstances," he muttered without
interest.  "Only make certain we have control of the Wells before
dawn," and the Count turned his head away, wondering if

Mussolini had yet received his cable.

What Castelani thought correct in the circumstances was to darken the
column immediately and put his entire battalion in a state of instant
readiness.  No lights were to be shown in any circumstances,

and a rigorous silence was imposed.  The column now advanced at little
more than a walking speed, with each driver personally warned that
engine noise was not to exceed idling volume.  All the men had been
alerted and rode now in silence with loaded weapons and tense nerves.

When at last the Eritrean guides pointed out to Castelani the shallow
forested valley below them, there was sufficient light from the sliver
of silver moon overhead for Castelani to survey the ground with the eye
of an old professional.

Within ten minutes, he had planned his dispositions, decided where to
hold his motor pool and main bivouac, where to site his machine guns,
place his mortars and lay his rifle trenches.  The Colonel grunted his
agreement without even looking up, and quietly the Major gave the
orders which would put into effect his plans and keep the battalion
working all night.

"And the first man who drops a shovel or sneezes I will strangle with
his own guts," he warned, as he glanced apprehensively at the faint
glow that emanated from amongst the low dark hills beyond the

Wells.

In the main cave, the air