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 was so thick and warm and moist that it lay
upon the company like a wet woollen blanket.  In the uneven light of
the fires it was impossible to see from one end to the other of the
cavernous room, with its rough earthen wall and columns.  The restless
body of guests and servants flitted through the smoky gloom like
wraiths.  Every once in a while there would be the terrified bellows of
an ox from the wadi outside.  the main entrance of the cave.  The
bellows would cease abruptly as the blackman swung his long two-handled
sword and the carcass fell with a thud that seemed to reverberate
through the cavern.  A vast shout of approval greeted the fall of the
beast, and a dozen eager assistants flayed the hide, hacked the flesh
into bloody strips and piled them on to huge platters of baked clay.

The servants staggered into the cave, bearing the laden platters of
steaming, quivering meat.  The guests fell upon it, men and women
alike, snatching up the bleeding flesh, taking an end between their
teeth, pulling it tight with one hand and hacking free a bite-sized
piece with a knife grasped in the other.  The flashing blade passed a
mere fraction from the end of the diner's nose and warm blood trickled
unheeded down the chin, as the lump was swallowed with a single
convulsive heave of the throat.

Each mouthful was washed down into the belly with a swig of the fiery
Ethiopian tej - a brew made from wild honey, a liquid the colour of
golden amber, with the impact of a charging buffalo bull.

Gareth Swales sat between the old Ras and Lij Mikhael in the place of
honour, while Jake and Vicky were a dozen places farther away amongst
the lesser notables.  In deference to the appetite and tastes of
foreigners, they were offered, in place of raw beef, an endless
succession of bubbling pots containing the fiery casseroles of beef,

lamb, chicken and game that are known under the inclusive title of
wat.

These highly spiced, peppery but delicious concoctions were spooned out
on to thin sheets of unleavened bread and rolled into a cigar shape
before eating.

Lij Mikhael warned his guests against the tea and instead offered
Bollinger champagne, wrapped in wet sacking to lower its temperature.
There was also pinch bottle Haig, London Dry Gin, and a vast array of
liqueurs Grand Marnier, yellow and green Chartreuse,

Dam Benedictine, and the rest.  These incongruous beverages in the
desert reminded the guests that their host was wealthy beyond the
normal concept of wealth, the lord of vast estates and, under the

Emperor, the master of many thousands of human beings.

The Ras sat at the head of the feast, with a war bonnet of lion's mane
covering his bald pate.  It made a startling, but rather moth-eaten wig
for it was forty years since the Ras had slain the lion, and the
ravages of time were apparent.

Now the Ras cackled with laughter as he rolled a sheet of the
unleavened bread, filled with steaming wat, into the shape and size of
a Havana cigar and thrust it, dripping juice, into Gareth Swales's
unprepared mouth.

You must swallow it without using your hands," Lij Mikhael explained
hastily.  "It is a game my father enjoys."  Gareth's eyes bulged, his
face turned crimson with lack of air and the bite of chilli sauce.
Gulping and gasping and chewing manfully, he struggled to ingest the
huge offering.

The Ras hooted merrily, drooling a little saliva from the toothless
mouth, his entire face a network of moving wrinkles as he encouraged
Gareth with cries of "How do you do?  How do you do?"  At last with his
dignity in shreds, red-faced, sweating and panting laboriously, the
roll of bread disappeared down Gareth's straining throat.  The Ras
folded him once more in that brotherly embrace, and

Lij Mikhael poured another goblet full of Bollinger for him.

However, Gareth, who did not enjoy being the butt of anyone's joke,
freed himself from the Ras, pushed the glass" aside and waved one of
the servants to him.  From the reeking bloody platter he selected a
strip of raw beef almost as thick as his wrist and as long as his
forearm.  Without warning, he thrust one end of it into the Ras's
gaping toothless mouth.

"Suck on that, you old bastard," he shouted, and the Ras stared at him
with startled rheumy bloodshot eyes.  Then, although he was unable to
smile because of the long red strip that hung from his lips like some
huge swollen tongue, the Ras's eyes turned to slits in a mask of happy
wrinkles.

His jaw seemed to unhinge like a python swallowing a goat.

He gulped and an inch of the meat shot into his M(Uthl he gulped again
and another inch disappeared.  Gareth stared at him as gulp succeeded
gulp and swiftly the morsel dwindled in size.  Within seconds the Ras's
mouth was empty, and he snatched up a bowl of tej and drank half a pint
of the heady liquor, wiped blood and tej from his chin with the skirt
of his sham ma belched like an air-locked geyser, then with a falsetto
cackle-of merriment hit Gareth a resounding crack between the shoulder
blades.  In the Ras's view, they were now comrades of the soul both
English aristocrats, renowned warriors, and each had eaten from the
other's hand.

Gregorius Maryam had anticipated exactly what his grandfather's
reaction to his white guests would be.  He knew that Gareth's
nationality and undoubted aristocratic background would overshadow all
else in the Ras's estimation.

However, the young prince's feelings for Jake Barton had become close
to adulation and he did not intend that his hero should be ignored.  He
chose the one subject which he knew would engage his grandfather's full
attention.  He slipped unnoticed from the din of the overcrowded cave,
and when he returned, he carried Jake's stiff crackling lion skin that
had by now completely dried out in the hot, dry desert wind.

Although he held it high above his head, the tail brushed the ground on
one side and the nose on the other.  The Ras, one arm still around
Gareth's shoulder, looked up with interest and fired a string of
questions at his grandson, as the boy spread the huge tawny skin before
him.

The replies made the old man so excited that he leaped to his feet and
grabbed his grandson by one arm, shaking him agitatedly as he demanded
details and Gregorius replied with as much animation, his eyes shining
as he mimed the charge of the lion, and the act of hurling the bottle
and the crushing of its skull.

Comparative silence had fallen over the smoky, dimlit cavern, and
hundreds of guests craned forward to hear the details of the hunt.  In
that silence, the Ras walked down to where Jake sat.  Stepping, without
looking, into various bowls of food and kicking over a jug of tea, he
reached the big curly-headed American and lifted him to his feet.

"How do you do?"  he asked, with great emotion, tears of admiration in
his eyes for the man who could kill a lion with his bare hands.

Forty years before, the Ras had broken four broad-bladed spears before
he had put a blade in the heart of his own lion.

"Never better, friend," Jake grunted, clumsy with embarrassment,

and the Ras embraced him fiercely before leading him back to the head
of the board.

Irritably the Ras kicked one of his younger sons in the ribs,

forcing him to vacate the seat on his right hand where he now placed

Jake.

Jake looked across at Vicky and rolled his eyes helplessly as the

Ras began to ladle steaming wat on to a huge white round of bread and
roll it into a torpedo that would have daunted a battle cruiser.  Jake
took a deep breath and opened his mouth wide, as the Ras lifted the
dainty morsel the way an executioner lifts his sword.

"How do you do?"  he said, and with another hoot of glee thrust it in
to the her.

The Colonel and all the officers of the Third Battalion were exhausted
from long hours of forced march and, by the time they reached the Wells
of Chaldi, were anxious only to see their tents erected and their cots
made up after that they were quite content that the Major be left to
use his own initiative.

Castelani sited his twelve machine guns in the sides of the valley
where they commanded a full arc of fire, and below them he placed his
rifle trenches.  The men sank the earthworks swiftly and with little
noise in the loose sandy soil, and they buttressed their trenches and
machine-gun nests with sandbags.

The mortar company he held well back, protected by both rifle trenches
and machine-gun nests, from where they could drop their mortar bombs
across the whole area of the wells with complete impunity.

While his men worked, Castelani personally paced out distances in front
of his de fences and supervised the placing of the painted metal
markers, so that his gunners would be able to fire over accurately
ranged sights.  Then he hurried back to chivvy along the ammunition
parties who staggered up in the darkness, slipping in the sandy soil
and cursing softly, but with feeling, under the burden of the heavy
wooden cases.

All that night he was tireless, and any man who laid down his shovel
for a few minutes of rest took the risk of being pounced upon by that
looming figure, the stentorian voice restrained to a husky but
ferocious whisper, and the rolling swagger tense with suppressed
outrage.

At last, the squat machine guns with their thick water jacketed barrels
were lowered down into the new excavaWm and set up on their tripods.
Only after Castelani had checked the traverse of each and sighted down
through the high sliding rear-sight into the moonlit valley was he
satisfied.  The men flung themselves down to rest and the

Major allowed the kitchen parties to come up with canteens of hot soup
and bags of hard black bread.

Gareth Swales felt bloated with food and slightly bleary with the large
quantities of lukewarm champagne which Lij Mikhael had pressed upon
him.

On one side, the Ras and Jake had established a rapport that overcame
the language barrier.  The Ras had convinced himself that as

Americans spoke English they were English, and that Jake as a
lion-killer was clearly a member of the upper stratum of society in
short a kind of honorary aristocrat.  Every time the Ras drained
another pint of tej, Jake became more socially acceptable and the Ras
had drained many pints of tej by this stage.

The atmosphere was indeed so jovial and aflame with bonhomie and
camaraderie that Gareth felt emboldened to ask, on behalf of the
partnership, the question that had been burning his tongue for the last
many hours.

"Toffee, (old lad, have you got the money ready for us?"  The Prince
seemed not to have heard, but refilled Gareth's glass with champagne,

and leaned across to translate one of Jake's remarks for his father,

and Gareth had to take his arm firmly.

"If it's all right by you, we'll take our wages and trouble you no
more.  Ride off into the sunset with violins playing, and all that
rot."

"I'm glad you raised the point."  Toffee nodded thoughtfully,

looking anything but glad.  "There are some things we have to
discuss."

"Listen, Toffee old son, there is absolutely nothing to discuss.  All
the discussing was done long ago."

"Now, don't upset yourself, my dear fellow."  It was, however, in
Gareth's nature to become very agitated when someone who owed him money
wanted to discuss things.

The usual subject of discussion was how to avoid making payment,

and Gareth was about to protest volubly and loudly when the Ras chose
that moment to rise to his feet and make a speech.

This caused a certain amount of consternation, for the Ras's legs had
been turned by large quantities of tej to the consistency of rubber,
and it required the efforts of two of his guardsmen to get him to his
feet and keep him there.

However, once up, he spoke with clarity and force while Lij

Mikhael translated for the benefit of the white guests.

At first, the Ras seemed to wander.  He spoke of the first rays of the
sun touching the peaks of the mountains, and the feel of the desert
wind in a man's face at noon, he reminded them of the sound of the
birth cry of a man's firstborn child and the smell of the earth turning
under the plough.  Gradually an attentive silence fell upon his unruly
audience, for the old man had still a power and force that demanded
complete respect.

As he went on, so a greater dignity invested him; he shrugged off the
supporting hands of his guard and seemed to grow in stature.  His voice
lost the querulous tremor of age and took on a more compelling ring.
Jake did not need the Prince's translation to know that he was speaking
of mans pride, and the rights of a free man.  The duty of a man to
defend that freedom with life itself, to preserve it for his sons and
their children.

"And now there comes a powerful enemy to challenge our rights as free
men.  An enemy so powerful, armed with such terrible weapons, that even
the hearts of the warriors of Tigre and Shoo shrivelled in their
breasts like diseased fruit."  The old Ras was panting now, and a
scanty sweat trickled from under the tall lion headdress and ran down
the wrinkled black cheeks.

"But now, my children, powerful friends have come to stand beside us.
They have brought to us weapons as powerful as those of our enemies. No
longer must we fear."  Jake realized suddenly what pathetic store the
Ras had placed in the worn and obsolete war materials they had brought
him.  He talked now of meeting the mighty armies of Italy on even
terms.

Abruptly, Jake felt a choking sense of guilt.  He knew that a week
after he left, the four armoured cars would be piles of junk.  There
was no man in all the Ras's following who could keep their elderly and
temperamental engines running.

Even if they were brought into action before the engines expired,

they would present a threat only to unsupported infantry.  The moment
they engaged with Italian armour they would be instantly and hopelessly
out-classed.  Even the light Italian CV.3 tanks would be immune to the
fire of the Vickers guns that the cars mounted, while in return the
thin steel of the cars would offer no protection from the 50 men.

armour-piercing shell that the enemy fired.  There would be no one to
explain all this to the Ras and teach him how to achieve the best from
the puny weapons he commanded.

Jake visualized the first and probably the last battle that Ras

Golam would fight.  Scorning manoeuvre and strategy, he would certainly
throw in all his force armoured cars, Vickers machine guns, obsolete
rifles and swords in a single frontal attack.  This was the way he had
fought all his battles and the way he would fight the last.

Jake Barton felt his heart go out to the gallant ancient, who stood now
shouting a challenge to a modern military power, prepared to defend to
the death what was his and Jake felt a curious sense of recklessness.
It was a reaction that he knew well and usually it led him into
positions of acute discomfort and danger.

"Forget it," he told himself firmly.  "It's their war.  Take the money
and run.  "Then suddenly he looked across the dimly lit cave to where
Vicky Camberwell sat.  She listened to the old Ras with misty eyes, and
her expression was enchanted as she leaned her golden head close to the
dark curly head of Sara Sagud, not wanting to miss a word of the
translation.

Now she saw Jake watching her, and she smiled and nodded vehemently
almost as though she had read his doubts.

"Leave Vicky also?"  Jake wondered.  "Leave them all and run with the
gold?"  He knew that nothing would induce Vicky to leave with them.

For her the story was here, her involvement was complete, and she would
stay to the end the inevitable end.

The smart thing was to go, the dumb thin to stay and fight another
man's war that was already lost before it had begun; the dumb thing was
to stake twenty thousand dollars which was his share of the profits,

and all his future plans, the Barton engine, and the factory to build
it, against the remote chance of winning a lady who promised to be a
lifetime of trouble once she was won.

never was a dab hand at doing the smart thing," Jake thought ruefully,
and smiled back at Vicky.

The Ras was suddenly silent, panting with the force of his feelings and
the effort of voicing them.  His listeners were mesmerized also,
staring at the thin-robed figure with its wild lion wig.

The Ras made a commanding gesture and one of his guards handed him the
broad two-handed sword, its blade long and naked.  The Ras leaned his
weight upon it and commanded again, and they carried in the war drums.
The Ras's ceremonial drums, passed down to him by his father and his
father before him, drums that had beaten at Magdala against

Napier, at Adowa against the Italians and at a hundred other battles.

They were as tall as a man's shoulder, elaborately carved of hardwood
and covered with rawhide, and the drummers took up their stance with
the barrels of their drums held between their knees.

The drum with the deepest bass tone set the rhythm and the lesser drums
joined in with the variations and counterpoints, a chorus that arred a
man's gut and loosened his brain in his skull.

The old Ras listened to it with his head bowed over the sword,

until the rhythm took a hold on him and his shoulders began to jerk and
his head came up.  With a leap like a white bird taking flight, he
landed in the open space before the drummers.  The great sword whirled
high above his head, and he began to dance.

Gareth took Mikhael Sagud by the sleeve and lifted his voice in
competition with the drums, and resumed at the point where he had been
interrupted.

"Toffee, you were telling me about the money."  Jake heard him and
leaned across to catch the Prince's reply, but the Prince was silent,

watching his father leap and twirl in the intricate and acrobatic
dance.

"We have delivered the goods, old chap.  And a deal is a deal."

"fifteen thousand sovereigns," said the Prince thoughtfully.

"That's the exact figure, "Gareth agreed.

"A dangerous sum of money," murmured the PPrince.

"Men have been killed for much less."  And they made no reply.

"I think of your safety, of course," the Prince went on.

"Your safety, and my country's chances of survival.  Without an
engineer to maintain the cars, and a soldier to teach my men to use the
new weapons we will have wasted fifteen thousand sovereigns."

"I feel very badly for you," Gareth assured him.  "I'll eat my heart
out for you while I am having dinner at the Cafe Royal, I really will
but truly, Toffee, you should have thought of this long ago."

"Oh, I did my dear Swales I assure you I gave it much thought."  And
the Prince turned to smile at Gareth.  "I thought that no one would be
foolish enough to take on his person fifteen thousand gold sovereigns
in the middle of Ethiopia and then try and get out of the country
without the Ras's personal approval and protection."  They stared at
him.

"Can you imagine the delight of the shifta, the mountain bandits,

when they learned that such a rich prize was moving unprotected through
their territory?"

"They would know, of course?"  murmured Jake.

"I fear that they might be informed."  The Prince turned to him.

"And if we tried to go back the way we came?"

"Through the desert on foot?"  the Prince smiled.

"We might use a little of the gold to buy camels," Jake suggested.

"I fancy you might find camels hard to come by, and somebody might
inform the Italians and the French of your movements to say nothing of
the Danakil tribesmen who would slit the throats of their own mothers
for a single gold sovereign."  They watched the Ras send the great
sword humming six inches over the heads of the bass drummers, and then
turn a grotesque flapping pirouette.

"God!"  said Gareth.  "I took you at your word, Toffee.  I mean word of
honour, and old school-"

"My dear Swales, these are not the playing fields of Eton, I'm
afraid."

"Still, I never thought you'd welsh."

"Oh, dear me, I am not welshing.  You can have your money now this very
hour."

"All right, Prince," Jake interrupted.  "Tell us what more you want
from us.  Tell us, is there any way we get out of here with a safe
conduct, and our money?"  The Prince smiled warmly at Jake,

leaning to pat his arm.

"Always the pragmatist.  No time wasted in tearing the hair or beating
the breast, Mr.  Barton."

"Shoot," said Jake.

"My father and I would be very grateful if you would work for us for a
six-month contract."

"Why six months?  "demanded Gareth.

"By then all will be lost, or won."

"Go on, "Jake invited.

"For six months you will exercise your skills for us and teach us how
best to defend ourselves against a modern army.  Service,

maintain and command the armoured cars."

"In return?  "Jake asked.

"A princely salary for the six months, a safe conduct out of

Ethiopia, and your money guaranteed by a London bank at the end of that
time."

"What is fair wages for putting one's head on the butcher's block?
"Gareth asked bitterly.

"Double another seven thousand pounds each, "said the Prince without
hesitation, and the men on each side of him relaxed slightly and
exchanged glances.

"Each?"  asked Gareth.

"Each,"agreed Lij Mikhael.

"I only wish I had my lawyer here to draw up the contract," said

Gareth.

, "Not necessary," Mikhael laughed, and shook his head and drew two
envelopes from his robes.  He handed one to each of them.

"Bank-guaranteed cheques.  Lloyds of London.  Irrev(.)cable, I

assure you but post-dated six months ahead.  Valid on the first of

February next year."  The two white men examined the documents
curiously.

Carefully Jake checked the date on the bank draft 1st February,

1936 and then read the figure fourteen thousand pounds sterling only
and he grinned.

"The exact amount the precise date."  He shook his head admiringly.
"You had it all figured out.  Man, you were thinking weeks ahead of
us."

"Good God, Toffee," Gareth intoned mournfully.  "I must say I am
appalled.  Utterly appalled."

"Does that mean you refuse, Major

Swales?"  Gareth glanced at Jake, and a flash of agreement passed
between them.  Gareth sighed theatrically.  "Well, I must say that I

did have an appointment in Madrid.  They've got themselves this little
war they are working on, but-" and here he studied the bank draft
again, "but one war is very much like another.  Furthermore, you have
given me some fairly powerful reasons why I should stay on."  Gareth
withdrew the wallet from his inside pocket and folded the draft into
it.  "However, that doesn't alter the fact that I am utterly appalled
by the way this whole business has been conducted."

"And you, Mr.

Barton?"  Lij Mikhael asked.

"As my partner has just remarked fourteen thousand pounds isn't exactly
peanuts.  Yes, I accept."  The Prince nodded, and then his expression
changed, became bleak and savage.

"I must urge you most cogently not to attempt to leave Ethiopia before
the expiry of our agreement justice is crude but effective under my
father's administration."  At that moment the gentleman under
discussion lifted the sword high above his head and then drove the
point deep into the earth between his feet.  He left it there, the
blade shivering and gleaming in the firelight, and staggered wheezing
and cackling to his place between Jake and Gareth.

He flung a skinny old arm around each of them and greeted them with a
hug and an affectionate cry of "How do you do?"  and Gareth cocked a
speculative eye at him.

"How would you like to learn to play gin rummy, old son?"  he asked
kindly.  Six months was a lot of time to while away and there might yet
be further profit in the situation, he thought.

The sound of the drums woke Count Aldo Belli from a deep,

untroubled sleep.  He lay and listened to them for a while, to the deep
monotonous rhythm like the pulse of the earth itself, and the effect
was lulling and hypnotic.  Then suddenly the Count came fully awake and
the adrenalin poured hotly into his bloodstream.  A month before
leaving Rome he had attended a screening of the latest Hollywood
release, Trader Horn, an African epic of wild animals and bloodthirsty
tribesmen.  The sound of tribal drums had been skilfully used on the
sound track to heighten the sense of menace and suspense, and the Count
now realized that out there in the night the same terrible drums were
beating.

He came out of his bed in a single bound with a roar that woke those in
the camp who were still asleep.  When Gino rushed into the tent, he
found his master standing stark-naked and wild-eyed in the centre of
his tent with the ivory-handled Beretta in one hand and the jewelled
dagger clutched in the other.

The instant the drums began beating, Luigi Castelani hurried back to
the bivouac, for he knew exactly what " reaction to expect from the
colonel.  He arrived to find that the Count was fully uniformed,

had selected a bodyguard of fifty men and was on the point of embarking
in the waiting Rolls.  The engine was running and the driver was as
eager to leave as his august passenger.

The Count was not at all pleased to see the bulky figure of his

Major come hurrying out of the darkness with that unmistakable
swaggering gait.  He had hoped to get clear before Castelani could
intervene, and now he immediately went on the offensive.

"Major, I am returning to Asmara to report in person to the

General," shouted Aldo Belli, and tried to reach the Rolls, but the

Major was too nimble for him and interposed his bulk and saluted.

"My Colonel, the de fences of the wells are now complete," he reported.
"The area is secure."

"I shall report that we are being attacked in overwhelming force,"
cried the Count, and tried to duck around Castelani's right side, but
the Major anticipated the move and jumped sideways to keep belly to
belly.

"The men are dug in, and in good spirits."

"You have my permission to withdraw in good order under the enemy's
bloodthirsty assault."  The

Count attempted to lull the man with the prospect of escape, and then
lunged to the left to reach the Rolls but the Major was swift as a
mamba, and again they faced each other.  The entire (officer corps of
the Third Battalion, hastily dressed and alarmed by the drums in the
night, had assembled to watch this exhibition of agility as the Count
and Castelani jumped backwards and forwards like a pair of game cocks
sparring at each other.  Their sentiments were heavily on the side of
their Colonel, and they would have enjoyed nothing more than the
spectacle of the retreating Rolls.

They would then have been free to follow in haste.

"I do not believe the enemy is present in any force."  Castelani's
voice was raised to a level where the Count's protests were completely
drowned.  "However, it is essential that the Colonel takes command in
person.  If there is to be a confrontation, it will involve a value
judgement."  The Major pressed forward a step at a time, until his
chest was an inch from the Colonel's and their noses almost touched.

"We are not formally at war.  Your presence is essential to reinforce
our position."  The Colonel was pressed to the point where he had no
choice but to fall back a pace, and the watching Officers sighed sadly.
It was an act of capitulation.  The contest of wills was over and
although the Count continued to protest weakly, the Major worked him
away from the Rolls the way a good sheep dog handles its flock.

"It will be dawn in an hour," said Castelani, "and as soon as it is
light, we shall be in a position to evaluate the situation."  At that
moment the drum fell silent.  Up the valley in the caves, the Ras had
at last finished his dance of defiance, and to the Count the silence
was cheering.  He threw one last wistful look at the Rolls, and then
let his gaze wander to the fifty heavily armed men of his bodyguard and
took a little more heart.

He squared his shoulders and drew himself erect, throwing back his
head.

"Major," he snapped.  "The battalion will stand firm."  He turned to
his watching officers, all of whom tried to fade into insignificance
and avoid his eyes.  "Major Vita, take command of this detachment and
move forward to clear the ground.  The rest of you fall in around
me."

The Colonel gave the Major and his fifty stalwarts a respectable
lead,

so that they might draw any hostile fire, and then, surrounded by a
protective screen of his reluctant juniors and prodded forward by
Luigi

Castelani, he moved cautiously along the dusty path that wound down the
slope of the valley to where' the battalion's forward elements had been
so expertly entrenched.

Phe most junior of Ras Golam's multitudinous grooms was fifteen years
of age.  The previous day one of the Ras's favourite mares in his care
had snapped her halter rope while he was taking her down to the water.
She had galloped out into the desert, and the boy had followed her for
the whole of that day and half of the night, until the capricious
creature had allowed him to come up with her and grasp the trailing end
of the rope.

Exhausted by the long chase and chilled by the cold night wind,

the boy had huddled down on her neck and allowed the mare to pick her
own way back to the water holes.  He was half asleep, clinging by
instinct alone to the mare's mane, when a short while before dawn she
wandered into the perimeter of the Italian base.

A nervous sentry had challenged loudly, and the startled animal had
plunged into a full run through the outskirts of the camp.  Now,

fully awake, the boy had clung to the galloping horse, and seen the
lines of parked trucks and military tents looming out of the
darkness.

He had seen the stacked rifles, and recognize the shape of the helmet
of another sentry who had challenged again as they passed through the
outer lines.

Peering back under his own arm he had seen the flash of the rifle shot
and heard the crack of the bullet pass his bowed head, and he urged the
horse on with heels and knees.

By the time the groom reached the deep wadi, the Ras's following was at
last succumbing to the effects of a full night's festivities.

Many of them had drifted away to find a place to sleep, others had
merely huddled down in their robes and slept where they had eaten.

Only the hardened few still ate and drank, argued and sang, or sat in
tejnumbed silence about the fires watching the womenfolk begin to
prepare the morning meal.

The boy flung himself off the mare at the entrance to the caves,

ducked under the arms of the sentries who would have restrained him and
ran into the crowded, smoky and dimly lit interior.  He was gabbling
with fright and importance, the words tumbling over each other and
making no sense until Lij Mikhael caught him by the upper arms and
shook him to restore his senses.

Then the story he told made sense, and rang with urgent conviction.
Those within earshot shouted it to those further back, and within
seconds the story, distorted and garbled, had flashed through the
gathering and was running wildly through the whole encampment.

The sleepers awakened, every man armed and every woman and child
curious and voluble.  They streamed out of the caves and from the rough
tents and shelters in the narrow ravines.  Without command, moving like
a shoal of fish without a leader but with as ingle purpose, laughing
sceptic ally or shouting speculation and comment and query, brandishing
shields and ancient firearms, the women clutching their infants, and
the older children dancing around them or darting ahead, the shapeless
mob streamed out of the broken ground and down into the saucer-shaped
valley of the wells.

In the caves, Lij Mikhael was still explaining the boy's story to the
foreigners, and arguing the details and implications with them and his
father.  It was Jake Barton who realized the danger.

"If the Italians have sent in a unit to grab the wells, then it's a
calculated act of war.  They'll be looking for trouble, Prince.

You'd best forbid any of your men to go down there, until we have sized
up Xhe situation properly."  It was too late, far too late.  In the
first faint glimmer of dawn, when the light plays weird tricks on a
man's eyes, the Italian sentries peering over their parapets saw a wall
of humanity swarming out of the dark and broken ground, and heard the
rising hubbub of hundreds of excited voices.

When the drumming had begun, many of the black shirts were huddled
below the firing step of their trenches, swaddled in their greatcoats
and sleeping the exhausted sleep of men who had travelled all the
previous day, and worked all the night.

The non-commissioned officers kicked and pulled them to their feet, and
shoved them to their positions along the parapet.  From here they
peered, befuddled with sleep, down into the valley.

With the exception of Luigi Castelani, not a single man in the Third
Battalion had ever faced an armed enemy, and now after an infinity of
nerve-tearing waiting, at last the experience was upon them in the dark
before the dawn when a man's vitality is at its lowest ebb.

Their bodies were chilled and their brains unclear.  In the uncertain
light, the mob that poured into the valley was as numerous as the sands
of the desert, each figure as large as a giant and as ferocious as a
marauding lion.

It was in this moment that Colonel Aldo Belli, panting with exertion
and nervous strain, stepped out of the narrow communication trench on
to the firing platform of the forward line of emplacements.  The
Sergeant in command of the trench recognized him instantly and let out
a cry of relief.

"my Colonel, thank God you have come."  And forgetful of rank and
position he seized the Count's arm.  Aldo Belli was so busy trying to
fight off the man's sweaty and importunate clutches that it was some
seconds before he actually glanced down into the darkened valley then
his bowels turned to jelly and his legs seemed to buckle under him.

"Merciful Mother of God," he wailed.  "All is lost.  They are upon us.
With clumsy fingers he unbuckled the flap of his holster and as he fell
to his knees he drew the pistol.

"Fire!"  he screamed.  "Open fire!"  And crouching down well below the
level of the parapet, he emptied the Beretta straight upwards into the
dawn sky.

Manning the Italian parapets were over four hundred combatants; of
these over three hundred and fifty were riflemen, armed with
magazine-loaded bolt-action weapons, while another sixty men in teams
of five serviced the cunningly placed machine guns.

Every man of this force had endured grinding nervous strain, listening
to the war drums and now confronted by a sweeping mob of threatening
figures.  They crouched like dark statues behind their weapons, fingers
curled stiffly around the triggers, and squinted over the open sights
of rifle and machine gun.

The Count's-shriek of command and the crackle of the pistol shots were
all that was necessary to snap the paralysing bonds of fear that held
them.  The firing was started around Aldo Belli's position, by men
close enough to hear his command.  A long line of muzzle flashes
bloomed and twinkled along the forward slope of the valley, and three
machine guns opened with them.  The tearing sound of their long
traversing bursts drowned out the crackle of musketry and their tracer
flickered and flew in long white arcs out across the valley to bury
itself in the dark moving blot of humanity.

Taken in the flank, the mob broke and surged away towards the dark
silence of the far slope of the valley, away from the sheets of bright
white tracer and the red rows of rifle fire.  Leaving their dead and
wounded scattered behind them, they spread like ispilled oil across the
valley floor.

The silent gunners on the far slope saw them coming, held their fire
for a few more confused panic-soured moments, and then, seeing
themselves threatened, they opened also.  The delay had the effect of
allowing the survivors of the first volley to race deeply into the
fields of overlapping fire that Castelani had so cleverly planned.

Caught in the open ground, hemmed in by a murderous storm of fire, the
forward movement of the mob broke down, and they milled aimlessly, the
women shrieking and clutching at their children, the children darting
and doubling like a shoal of fish trapped in a tidal pool, some of the
warriors kneeling in the open and beginning at last to return fire.

The red flashes of the black powder were long and dull and smoky and
ineffectual against men in entrenched positions; they served only to
intensify the ferocity of the Italian attack.

Now the surge of uncontrolled, panic-stricken humanity slowed and
eventually ceased.  The unarmed women who still survived gathered their
children and covered them with their robes, crouching down over them as
a mother hen does with her chicks, and the men crouched also, firing
blindly and wildly up the slopes of the valley at the muzzle flashes
that were fading now as the sun rose and the light strengthened.

Twelve machine guns, each firing almost seven hundred rounds a minute,
and three hundred and fifty rifles poured a sheet of bullets down into
the valley.  Minute after minute the firing continued, and slowly the
light strengthened, unmercifully exposing the survivors in the valley
below.

The mood of the attackers changed.  From panicky, nervously strung out
green militia, they were transformed.

The almost drunken elation of victorious attackers gripped them, they
were laughing triumphantly now as they served the guns.  Their eyes
bright with the blood lust of the predator, the knowledge that they
could kill without retribution made them bold and cruel.

The miserable popping and flashing of ancient muskets in the valley
below them was so feeble, so lacking in menace, that not a man amongst
them was still afraid.  Even Count Aldo Belli was now on his feet,
brandishing his pistol and shouting with a high, girlish hysteria.

"Death to the enemy!  Fire!  Keep firing!"  and cautiously he lifted
his head another inch above the parapet.  "Kill them!  Ours is the
victory!"  The valley floor, as the first rays of sunlight touched it,
was covered with thick swathes of the dead and maimed.

They lay scattered singly, piled in clumps like mounds of old clothing
in a flea market, thrown haphazardly on the coal pale sandy earth or
arranged in neat patterns like fish on the slab.

In the centre of the killing-ground, there was still life movement.
Here and there a figure might leap up and run with robes flapping, and
immediately the machine guns would follow it, quick stabbing spouts of
dust closing swiftly until they met and held on the running figure,
when it would collapse and roll on the sandy earth.

The warriors who still crouched over their ancient rifles, with their
dark faces lifted to the slopes, were now providing good practice for
the riflemen above them.  The Italian officers" voices, high-pitched
and excited, called down fire upon them, and swiftly each of these
defiants was hit by carefully aimed fire and fell, some of them kicking
and twitching.

The firing had lasted almost twenty minutes now, and there were few
targets still on offer.  The machine guns traversed expectantly, firing
short bursts into the heaped carcasses, shattering already mutilated
flesh, or tore clouds of dust and flying shale from the rounded lips of
the deep water holes, from the cover of which a sporadic fire still
popped and crackled.

"My Colonel.  "Castelani touched Aldo Belli's arm to gain his
attention, and at last he turned wild-eyed and elated to his Major.

"Ha, Castelani, what a victory what a great victory, hey?  They will
not doubt our valour now."

"Colonel, shall I order the cease fire?"  and the Count seemed not to
hear him.

"They will know now what kind of soldier I am.  This brilliant victory
will win for me a place in the halls-2

"Colonel!  Colonel!  We must cease fire now.  This is a slaughter.

Order the cease fire."  Aldo Belli stared at him, his face beginning to
flush with outrage.

"You crazy fool," he shouted.  "The battle must be decisive, crushing!
We will not cease now not until the victory is ours."  He was
stuttering wildly and his hand shook as he pointed down into the bloody
shambles of the valley.

"The enemy have taken cover in the water holes, they must be flushed
out and destroyed.  Mortars, Castelani, bomb them out."  Aldo Belli did
not want it to end.  It was the most deeply satisfying experience of
his life.  If this was war, he knew at last why the sages and the poets
had invested it with such In glory.  This was man's work, and Aldo
Belli knew himself born to it.

"Do you question my orders?"  he shrieked at Castelani.

"a) your duty, immediately."

"Immediately," Castelani repeated bitterly, and for a moment longer
stared stonily into the Count's eyes before he turned away.

The first mortar bomb climbed high into the clear desert dawn, before
arcing over and dropping vertically down into the valley.  It burst on
the lip of the nearest well.  It kicked up a brief column of dust and
smoke, and the shrapnel whinnied shrilly.  The second bomb fell
squarely into the deep circular pit, bursting out of sight below ground
level.

Mud and smoke gushed upwards, and out of the water hole into the open
ground crawled and staggered three scarecrow figures with their
tattered and dirty robes fluttering like flags of truce.

Instantly the rifle fire and machine-gun fire burst over them, and the
earth around them whipped by the bullets seemed to liquefy into a
cascade of flying dust, into which they tumbled and at last lay
still.

Aldo Belli let out a hoot of excitement.  It was so easy and so deeply
satisfying.  "The other holes, Castelani!"  he screamed.  "Clean them
out!  All of them!"  Concentrating their fire on one hole at a time,
the mortars ranged in swiftly.  Some of the holes were deserted, but at
most of them the slaughter was continued.  A few survivors of the
shimmering bursts of shrapnel staggered out into the open to be cut
down swiftly by the waiting machine guns.

The Count was by now so emboldened that he climbed up on the parapet,
the better to view the field and watch the mortars fire on the
remaining holes, and to direct his machine gunners.

The hole nearest the wadis and broken ground at the head of the valley
was the next target, and the first bomb was over, crumping in a tall
jump of dust and pale flame.

Before the next bomb fell, a woman jumped up over the lip and tried to
reach the mouth of the wadi.  Behind her she dragged a child of two or
three years, a naked toddler with fat little bow legs and a belly like
a brown ball.  He could not keep up with the mother and lost his
footing, so she dragged him wailing along the sandy earth.  Straddling
her hip and clutched with desperate strength to her breast was another
younger infant, also naked, also wailing and kicking frantically.

For several seconds, the running, heavily burdened woman drew no fire,
and then a burst from a machine gun fell about her and a bullet struck
and severed the arm by which she held the child.  She staggered in a
circle, shrieking dementedly and waving the stump of the arm like the
spout of a garden hose.  The next burst smashed through her chest, the
same bullets shattering the body of the infant on her hip, and she fell
and rolled like a rabbit hit by a shotgun.

The guns fell silent again and remained silent while the naked toddler
stood up uncertainly.

He began to wail again, standing solidly at last on the fat dimpled
legs, a string of blue beads around the tightly bulging belly and his
penis sticking out like a tiny brown finger.

From the mouth of the wadi emerged a running horse, a rawboned and
rangy white stallion galloping heavily over the sandy ground with a
frail boyish figure lying low along its neck, a black sham ma flying
out wildly behind.  The rider drove the stallion on towards where the
child stood weeping, and had almost covered the open ground before the
gunners realized what was happening.

The first machine gun traversed on the galloping animal, but this
lead-off was stiff and the bullets kicked dust slightly high and
behind.  Then the horse reached the child and the rider reined in
sharply, sending it rearing on its hind quarters, and the rider swung
down to make the pick-up.

At that moment, two other machine guns opened up on the stationary
target.

Jake Barton realized that there was only one way To prevent a
confrontation between the Italian force which had appeared so silently
and menacingly at the wells and the undisciplined mob of warriors and
camp followers of the Ras's entourage.  there was no chance that he
could make himself heard in the hubbub of anxiously raised voices and
emotional outbursts of Amharic as the Ras tried to make his view heard
above the attempts of fifty of his chieftains and captains to do
exactly the same thing.

Jake needed an interpreter and he thrust his way towards Gregorius
Maryam, grabbed him firmly by the arm and dragged him out of the cave.
It needed considerable force, for Gregorius was as intent as everybody
else in having his views and suggestions aired.

Jake was surprised to find how light it was outside the caves, and that
the night had passed so swiftly.  Dawn was only minutes away, and the
dry desert air was sweet and heady after the crowded cave with its
smoking fires.

In the light of the camp fires and the pale sky, he saw the mob
streaming away down the wadi towards the wells, as happily excited as
the crowds at a fairground.

"Stop them, Greg," he shouted.  "Come on, we've got to stop them," and
the two of them ran forward.

"What is it, Jake?"

"We've got to stop them running into the Eyetie camp."

"Why?"

"If somebody starts shooting, there will be a massacre."  BUt we are
not at war, Jake.  They can't shoot."

"Don't bet on it, buddy boy," grunted Jake grimly, and his alarm was
contagious.  Side by side, they caught up with the straggling rear of
the column and elbowed and kicked their way through it.

"Back, you bastards," roared Jake.  "Get back, all of you, and made the
meaning clear with flying fists and feet.

With Gregorius beside him, Jake reached the narrow mouth of the wadi
where it debauched into the saucer shaped valley of the wells.  Like
the wall of a dam the two of them linked arms and managed to hold the
flood of humanity there for a minute or so, but the pressure from those
straining forward from the rear threatened to sweep them away, while
the mood changed from high-spirited "curiosity to angry resentment at
this check upon their efforts to join the hundreds of their comrades
who had already passed out of the wadi and were streaming out across
the open valley.

At the moment when they were swept aside, the firing began out there
upon the slopes of the valley and instantly the mob froze and their
voices died away.  There was no further forward movement, and Jake
turned and scrambled up the steep side of the wadi for a better view
out into the valley.

From there he watched the slaughter that turned the va ley into a
charnel house.  He watched with a sick fascination that changed slowly,
as minute after minute the guns continued their clamour.  He felt it
become anger and outrage that outweighed all else, so that he was
hardly aware of the slim cold hand that sought his, and he glanced down
only for an instant at Vicky's golden head at his shoulder, before
turning his entire concentration back to the dreadful tragedy being
played out before them.

Vaguely he was aware that Vicky was sobbing beside him, and that she
had gripped his hand so tightly that the nails were driven deep into
his palm.  Yet even in his dreadful anger, Jake was studying the ground
and marking the Italian positions.  On his other hand, Gregorius Maryam
was praying softly, his smooth young face turned to a muddy grey with
horror and the words of the prayer forced between tight lips like the
last breaths of a dying man.

"Oh God," whispered Vicky in a tight, choked voice, as the mortar
bombing began, dropping relentlessly into the depressions where the
survivors huddled for shelter.  "Oh God, Jake, what can we do?"  But he
did not answer and it went on and on.  They were caught in the
nightmare of it, powerless in the grip of this horror watching the
mortars continue the hunt, until the woman with her two infants burst
out into the open not three hundred yards ahead of them.

"Oh God, oh please Jesus," whispered Vicky.  "Please don't let it
happen.  Please make it stop now."  The guns hunted the woman and they
watched her die, and the child rise to its feet and stand lost and
bewildered beside the mother's corpse.  The thud of galloping hooves
sounded in the wadi below them and Gregorius swung around and cried,
"Sara!  No!"  as the girl rode out, crouched low over the stallion's
neck.  She rode bare-backed, a tiny dark figure on the big white
animal.

"Sara!"  Gregorius cried again, and would have followed her, running
out alone into that deadly plain, but Jake grabbed his arm and held him
easily, though he struggled and cried out again in Amharic.

The girl rode on unscathed through the storm of fire, and Vicky's
breathing stopped as she watched.  It was impossible that Sara could
reach the child and return.  It was stupid, so stupid as to make her
anger leap even higher and yet there was something so moving about that
frail beautiful child riding out to her death, that it filled Vicky
with a sense of her own inadequacy, a sense of great humility for even
in this proud moment, she was aware that she was incapable of such
sacrifice.

She watched the stallion rear, and the girl lean out to gather the
small brown infant, saw the machine guns find their target at last, and
the stallion whinnied and went down in a tangle of flailing hooves,
pinning both the girl and the child, while the bullets continued to
spurt dust and slap loudly against the still kicking body of the
stallion.

Gregorius was still struggling and blab bering his horror, and Jake
turned and struck him an open-handed blow across the face.

"Stop that!"  Jake snarled, his own anger and outrage making him
brutal.  "Anybody who goes out there is going to get his arse shot
off."  The blow seemed to steady Gregorius.

"We have got to get her, Jake.  Please, Jake.  Let me fetch her."
"We'll do it my way," snapped Jake.  His face seemed carved from hard
brown stone, but his eyes were ferocious and his jaws clamped closed
with his anger.  Roughly he shoved Gregorius ahead of him down into the
wadi, and he dragged Vicky after him.  She tried to resist, leaning
back against his strength, her head turned towards the plain, and her
reluctant feet sliding in the loose earth.

"Jake, what are you doing?"  she protested, but he ignored her.

"We'll mount the guns.  It won't take long."  He was planning through
his rage, as he dragged them back along the wadi to where the cars were
parked beyond the caves.

Vicky and Gregoflus were helpless in the ferocity of his grip, swept
along by his strength and his anger.

"Vicky, you will drive for me.  I'll serve the gun," he told her.
"Greg, you drive for Gareth."  Jake's breathing was shallow and fast
with his rage.  "We can only man two cars, one we will use as a
diversion you and Gareth swing south along the back of the ridge and
that will keep them busy while Vicky and I pick up Sara and as many of
the others as we can find alive."  The two of them listened to him, and
were swept forward with a fresh urgency.  As they ran back along the
wadi, a final brief storm of machine-gun fire and exploding mortar bomb
preceded the deep aching silence which now fell over the desert.

The three of them turned the final bend in the course of the wadi and
came upon a scene of utter pandemonium.

The ravine was filled solidly with those who had escaped the Italian
fire struggling to load their possessions, their tents and bedding,
their chickens and children, on to the panicky bellowing camels and the
skittering braying mules and donkeys.

Already hundreds of riders were galloping away, climbing the sides of
the wadi or disappearing into the labyrinth of broken ground.  New
widows wailed in the uproar and their grief was catching, the children
shrieked, and whimpered in sympathy, and over it all hung a blue miasma
of smoke from the cooking fires and dust from the trampling hooves and
milling feet.

The four cars stood in their solid orderly rank, aloof from the masses
of humanity, gleaming in their coats of white paint with the vivid red
crosses emblazoned upon their sides.

Jake pushed a way through for them, towering head and shoulders above
the throng, and when they reached the nearest car Jake grasped Vicky
about the waist and swung her easily up into the sponson.  For a moment
his expression softened.

"You don't have to come," he said.  "I guess I went a little mad then,
you don't have to drive Gareth and I will take one car."  Her face was
deathly pale also, and there were deep bruised smears under her eyes
from a night without sleep and the horrors of the slaughter.  Her tears
had dried, leaving dirty smears down her cheeks, but she shook her head
fiercely.

"I'm coming," she said.  "I'll drive for you."

"Good girl," said Jake.  "Help Gregorius top up.  We will need full
fuel tanks.  I'll get the Vickers."  He turned away, shouting to
Gregorius.  "We'll use Miss Wobbly and Tenastelin Vicky will help you
refuel."  A detail from the Ras's personal bodyguard were already
bringing the wooden cases of weapons and munitions out of the storage
cave as Jake arrived.  Each case was carried between four straining
troopers to where the camels knelt.

It was then lifted into the pannier on each side of the hump and
hastily lashed down.

"Hey, you lot."  Jake came up with a group carrying a crated Vickers.
"Bring that along this way."  They paused in understanding until Jake
made unmistakable signs, but at that moment a captain of the guard
hurried up to intervene.  After one shouted exchange Jake realized that
the language barrier was insurmountable.  The man was obstinate and
time was wasting.

"Sorry, friend," he apologized.  "But I am in a bit of a hurry," and he
hit him a roundhouse clout that ended the argument conclusively and
sent the man flying backwards into the outstretched arms of two of his
men.

"Come along."  Jake pushed the guards with the crate towards where the
cars stood.  The thought of Sara lying out there in the valley was
driving him frantic.  He imagined her bleeding slowly to death, her
bright young blood draining away into the sandy soil and he hustled the
two men forward through the press of animals and human beings.

As he came up, Gregorius was swinging the crank handle on Miss Wobbly
and the engine caught and ran smoothly as Vicky eased back the
ignition.

"Where is Gareth?  "Jake shouted.

"Can't find him," answered Gregorius.  "We'll have to go in one car,"
and then both of them swung round at the familiar bantering laugh.
Gareth Swales was leaning nonchalantly against the side of the car,
looking as unruffled and calm as ever, his hair neatly combed and the
tweed suit as immaculate as if it had just come from his tailor.

"say," smiled Gareth, crinkling his eyes against the drift of blue
smoke from the cheroot between his lips.  "Big Jake Barton and his two
eager ducklings about to take on the entire Italian army."  Vicky's
head appeared in the driver's hatch.

"We've been looking for you," she shouted furiously.

"Ah," quoth Gareth lightly.  "We will now hear from the Girl Guides
Association."

"Sara is out there."  Gregorius ran to Gareth.  "We are going to fetch
her.  You and I will take the one car, Vicky and Jake the other."

"Nobody is going anywhere."  Gareth shook his head, and Gregorius
seized the lapels of his suit and shook them urgently.  "Sara.  You
don't understand she's out there!  We have to fetch her."  say, old
lad, would you mind unhanding me, "murmured Gareth and removed
Gregorius" hands from his lapel.  "Yes.

We know about Sara, but--2 Vicky yelled from the driver's hatch.
"Leave, him, Gregorius.  We don't need anyone who is afraid-" and
Gareth straightened up abruptly, his expression grim and his eyes
snapping.

"I have been called many things in my life, my dear young lady.  Some
of them justified, but nobody has ever called me a coward."

"Well, there is always a first time, buster," shouted Vicky, her face
crimson with anger and streaked with dirt, her blonde hair ruffled and
hanging into her eyes and she pointed one quivering finger at Gareth,
"and for you this is that first time!"  They stared at each other for a
moment longer before Lij Mikhael strode between them, his dark face set
but commanding.

"Major Swales is acting on my express orders, Miss Camberwell.  I have
ordered that the cars and all my father's troops will fall back
immediately."

"Good God, man."  Vicky transferred her anger from Gareth to the
Prince.  "That's your daughter lying out there."

"Yes," said the Prince softly.  "My daughter on the one hand my country
on the other.

There is no doubt which I must choose."

"You're not making sense, "Jake interposed roughly.

"I think I am."  The Prince turned to him and Jake saw the dark torment
in the man's eyes.  "I cannot make a hostile move, it's what the
Italians are seeking.  An excuse to attack in full strength.  We must
turn the other cheek now, and use this atrocity to win world
support."

"But Sara," Vicky interrupted.  "We could pick her up in a minute."

"No."  The Prince lifted his chin.  "I cannot show the , enemy these
new weapons of ours.  They must remain hidden until the time is right
to strike."

"Sara, cried Gregorius.  "What of Sara?"  "When these machines and the
new guns are safely on their way back to the Sardi Gorge, I shall ride
out myself to fetch her body," said the Prince with a simple dignity.
"But until then my duty must come first."

"One car," pleaded Gregorius.  "For Sara's sake."

"No, I cannot use even one car," said the Prince.

"Well, I can," snapped Vicky and her tousled golden head disappeared
into the driver's hatch, the engine roared and Miss Wobbly shot forward
scattering men and animals before her, and swung in a tight sliding
right-hand turn towards the course of the wadi.

Unarmed and alone, Vicky Camberwell was going out to face the machine
guns and the mortars, and only one man amongst them acted swiftly
enough.

Jake shouldered the Prince aside and sprinted across the circle of the
car's turn, coming alongside a moment before it plunged into the narrow
ravine.  He got a grip on one of the welded brackets abaft the engine
cowling, and although his shoulder joint was almost wrenched from its
socket, he swung himself up and fell belly down across the sponson.

Clinging grimly on to the leaping, jouncing vehicle, he dragged himself
forward until he could peer down the driver's hatch.

"Are you crazy?"  he bellowed, and Vicky looked up and gave him a
fleeting but angelic grin.

"Yes.  How about you?"A heavier impact came up through the chassis of
the car and momentarily drove Jake's breath from him so he could not
answer.  Instead, he clawed his way up the side of the turret, almost
losing four fingers as the loose hatch cover slammed closed at another
leap of the car.

Using all his strength, Jake lifted it again, and secured the retaining
catch before he scrambled down into the cab.

He was only just in time, for at that moment Vicky drove the car at
full throttle out into the valley.

The sun was clear of the horizon now, smearing long dark shadows across
the golden sands.  Dust and smoke from the mortar barrage still drifted
in a stately brown cloud over the ridge, and the bodies of the dead
were thrown at random across the bare plain.  The women's dresses made
bright splashes of colour against the monochrome of the desert.

Jake swept a swift glance around the ridge that commanded the plain,
and saw that many of the Italian troopers had left their trenches. They
wandered in small groups around the edges of the slaughter ground, and
their movements were awed and timid green troops still not hardened to
the reality of open wounds and twisted corpses.

They froze in attitudes of surprise as the car burst out of the wadi,
and flew on usty wings towards the nearest waterhole.  It took many
seconds for them to move, and then they turned and pelted for their
earthworks, tiny figures in dark uniforms with legs and arms pumping in
frantic haste.

"Turn broadside," yelled Jake.  "Show them the crosses!"  and Vicky
reacted swiftly, swinging the car into a tight lefthander that had her
up on two wheels, sliding broadside in the sand, displaying to the
Italians the huge scarlet crosses on the hull.

"Let me have your shirt," Jake yelled again.  It was the only white
cloth they had with them.  "I need a flag of truce!"

"It's all I have on," Vicky shrieked back.  "I'm bare underneath."

"You want to be modest and dead?"  howled Jake.  "They'll start
shooting any moment now."  And she steered with one hand as she
unbuttoned her shirt front and leaned forward in the seat to yank the
tails out of her skirt.  She shrugged out of it and reached up into the
turret to hand him the bundled shirt.  Each time they hit another bump,
Vicky's breasts bounced like rubber balls, a sight that distracted Jake
for a hundredth part of a second before chivalry and duty recalled him
and he stood high in the turret, arms stretched above his head,
streaming the white shirt like a flag, balancing with a sailor's legs
against the wild antics of the car.

To the hundreds of men who lined the parapet of the Italian trenches
Jake displayed two emotive symbols, the red cross and the white flag,
symbols so powerful that even men in the white-hot must of the blood
lust hesitated with their fingers still curled about the triggers of
the machine guns.

"It's working," shrieked Vicky, and swung the car on to its original
heading, almost throwing Jake from his precarious roost in the turret.
He dropped the shirt and clutched wildly at the coamings of the turret,
the shirt floating away like a white egret on the wing.

"There she is," Vicky cried again.  The carcass of the white stallion
lay dead ahead, as she braked hard and then pulled the car to a
standstill beside it, interposing the armoured body of the car between
the pile of bodies and the watching Italians on the ridge.

Jake dropped down into the cab and crawled back to open the rear double
doors of the car, knocking open the locking handles as he called over
his shoulder.

"Keep your hatch battened and don't, for chrissakes, show your head."

"I'll help you," Vicky stated boldly.

"The hell you will," snapped Jake, tearing his eyes off her magnificent
chest.  "You'll stay where you are and keep the engine running."  The
doors flew open and Jake tumbled headfirst out on to the sandy earth.
Spitting grit from his mouth, he crawled swiftly to the carcass of the
white horse.  Close up, the hide was shaggy and flea-bitten, dappled
with faint patches of chestnut.  On this pale background the bullet
holes were like dark red mouths where already the metallic blue flies
clustered delightedly.

The stallion lay heavily across Sara's lower body, pinning her face
down to the earth.

The naked boy child had been hit by one of the hooves as the horse
fell.  The side of the tiny bald skull had been crushed, a deep
indentation above the temple into which a baseball would have fitted
neatly.  There was no chance that he still lived and Jake transferred
his attention to the girl.

"Sara," he called, and she lifted herself on her elbows, looking back
at him from huge terrified dark eyes.  Her face was smeared with dust,
the skin shaved from one cheek where she had slid against the ground,
exposing the pale pink meat from which lymph leaked in clear liquid
beads.

"Are you hit?  "Jake reached her.

"I don't know," she whispered huskily, and he saw that the satin of her
breeches was soaked with dark blood.  He placed both feet against the
carcass of the horse and tried to roll it off her legs, but the dead
weight of the animal was enormous.  He would have to stand, taking his
chances with the guns.

Jake came to his feet and felt the cold fingers of fear brush lightly
along his spine as he turned his back to the nearest Italian trenches
and stooped to the horse.

Crouching with his weight balanced evenly on the balls of both feet, he
took the tail and the lower hind leg of the animal; lifting and turning
with all his strength, he began to roll the carcass off Sara's legs and
pelvis.  She cried out in pain, such a sharp high-pitched shriek that
he had to stop.

She was praying incoherently in Amharic, weeping slow fat tears of
agony that cut tunnels through the pale dust on her cheeks.

Jake panted, "Once more I'm sorry," and he braced himself.  At that
moment Vicky yelled from the car.

"Jake, they are coming!  Hurry, oh God, please hurry!"  Jake swung
around and ran to the car, peering over the high engine compartment.

With a long plume of pale dust boiling out from behind it, a large open
vehicle crowded with armed men was dropping swiftly down towards them
from the ridge.

"My God," grunted Jake, screwing up his eyes against the low blinding
rays of the morning sun.  "It can't be!"  But even at that range in the
dust and bad light, there was no mistaking the gracious and dignified
lines of a Rolls-Royce.

Jake was seized by a feeling of unreality that amid all this horror
appear something of such beauty.

"Hurry, Jake."  Vicky's voice spurred him on, and he ran back to the
dead horse, seized its hind legs and began wrestling it on to its back
with the girl's agonized cries as an accompaniment.

Grunting and straining, Jake lifted the horse by main strength until it
was balanced critically along its spine with the legs pointed loosely
at the morning sky, and now he could hear the approaching engine-beat
of the Rolls and the faint but excited voices of its occupants.  He
denied the temptation to look around again and, instead, let the
carcass flop heavily over on to its other flank, freeing the frail body
of the child-woman beneath it.

Still panting with his efforts, Jake dropped on one knee beside her.
She was hit in the upper leg, he saw at once, the entry wound was six
inches above the knee, and when he felt swiftly for a bone-break, there
was another quick flood of dark crimson blood that poured warmly over
his fingers and drenched the slick satin of her breeches afresh.  Jake
found the exit wound in the inside of her thigh, but knew by feel and
instinct that it had missed the bone.  Still, she was losing blood
heavily and he inserted a forefinger into the tear in her breeches and
ripped the cloth cleanly to the ankle; he pulled it up exposing her
long slim leg to the crutch.  The wound was deep and blue in the darkly
lustrous flesh, and Jake tore the flapping trouser-leg free and wound a
turn of it around the thigh above the wound.

Using both arms and the strength of his shoulders he drew the crude
tourniquet so tight that the flow of blood was instantly stemmed and he
tied the ends of the bandage with two swift turns, and then looked up
just as the RollsRoyce skidded to a violent halt across the front of
the armoured car.

There seemed to be a state of utter confusion amongst the occupants of
the Rolls, and again Jake felt a sense of unreality.  In the front
seat, the driver gripped the steering wheel in one hand and a rifle in
the other with white knuckles and fingers that shook like those of a
man in fever.

His ashen face was shining with the sweat either of some terrible fever
or some equally terrible terror.  On the seat beside him crouched a
small wiry figure with a rifle slung over one shoulder and with a brown
wizened monkey face partly obscured by a square black Leica camera with
an enormous bellows lens.  In the back seat of the Rolls was a large
powerfully built man, with a granite face and the level controlled
manner of a man of action.  A dangerous man, Jake recognized instantly,
and he saw that he was a major.

He held a rifle in one hand and with the other was trying to help to
his feet a smaller, more handsome man in a splendid uniform of
elegantly tailored black gabardine adorned with silver badges and
insignia.

On this officer's head, a brimless black helmet with a silver skull and
crossbones rode at a jaunty angle, like a pirate in a Christmas
pantomime, but the face below it was fixed in the same pale emotion as
that of the driver.  It became clear to Jake that the last thing this
gallant wanted was to be helped to his feet.  He was curled up in the
corner of the seat in such a way as to offer the smallest possible
target, and he slapped petulantly at the Major's helping hand.

Protesting shrilly and brandishing an expensively plated and engraved
pistol, it was clear that his presence in the Rolls was by no means
voluntary.

Jake stooped over the body of the girl and slipped one arm under her
shoulders and the other beneath her knees, careful not to inflict
further hurt.  Jake stood up with her in his arms while she clung to
him like a child.

This action caused the big stern-faced Major to turn all his attention
on Jake, to level his rifle at him and call a peremptory order in
Italian.  It was clearly an order to stand where he was, and, looking
into the muzzle of the rifle and into the pale expressionless eyes,
Jake knew that the man would shoot without hesitation if he were not
immediately obeyed.  There was a deadliness, a quiet aura of menace
about him that chilled Jake as he stood with the slim warm body in his
arms, and he collected his senses and his words.

"I am American,"he said firmly.  "American doctor.  "There was no
recognition in the Major's expression, but he turned his head and
glanced at the officer who stirred receptively, half-rose in his seat,
then thought better of it.  He sank back again, speaking carefully
around the bulk of his Major.

"You are my prisoner," he cried, his voice unsteady, but his English
clear and unaccented.  "I place you in protective custody."  "You are
contravening the Geneva Convention."  Jake tried to make his tone
indignant, as he sidled towards the invitingly open rear doors of the
car.

"I must inspect your credentials."  The officer was recovering rapidly
from his recent indisposition.  Fresh colour flooded the classically
handsome face, new interest flashed in the dark gazelle eyes, and the
smooth baritone voice gained strength and a fine ringing timbre.

% Colonel Count Aldo Belli, command you to account to me."  His gaze
switched to the huge steel body of the car.

"This is an armoured vehicle of war.  You fly false colours, sir."  As
the Count spoke, he realized for the first time that neither the big
curly-headed American nor the big oldfashioned vehicle which towered
over them was armed.  He could clearly see the empty gun-mounting in
the turret and his courage came flooding back.  Now at last he leaped
to his feet, throwing out his chest, one hand on his hip, the other
aiming the pistol at Jake.

"You are my prisoner" he declaimed once more, then from the corner of
his mouth he growled at the front seat, "Gino, quickly.  A shot of me
capturing the American."

"At once, Excellency.  "Gino was focusing the camera.

"I protest," shouted Jake, and sidled another few paces towards the
inviting rear doors of the car.

"Stay where you are," snapped the Count and glanced at Gino.  "All
right?  "he asked.

"get the American to move a little to the right," Gino replied, still
peering into the view-finder.

"A little to the right!"  commanded the Count in English, gesturing
with the pistol, and Jake obeyed, for it brought him closer to his
goal, but he was still shouting his protests.

"In the name of humanity and the International Red Cross-"

"I

shall radio Geneva today," the Count shouted back, "to enquire of your
credentials."

"Smile a little, Excellency," said Gino.

The Count burst into a radiant smile and half-turned towards the
camera.

"Then I shall have you shod' he he promised, still smiling.

"If you let this girl die," yelled Jake, "it will be the act of a
barbarian."  The smile vanished instantly and the Count scowled darkly.
"And your actions, sir, are those of a spy.  Enough talk surrender
yourself" He lifted the pistol threateningly and aimed at the centre of
Jake's chest.  Jake felt a chill of despair, as he saw the big Major
reinforce the order by sliding the safety catch of his rifle to the
fire" position and pointing it at Jake's belly.

At this critical moment, the driver's hatch of the armoured car flew
open with a clang -that startled them all and Vicky Camberwell rose to
view, her blonde hair awry and her cheeks burning with anger.

"I am an accredited member of the American Press Association," she
yelled as loudly as any of them.  "And I assure you that this outrage
will be reported to the world in every detail.  I warn you that-" There
was much more in this vein, and Vicky's anger was such that she could
not remain still, she jumped up and down and flung her arms about in
wild gesticulations for the moment completely oblivious of the fact
that she was bared to the waist.

Her audience in the Rolls was under no such illusion.

Every man of them was a member of a nation whose favourite pastime was
the adoration and pursuit of beautiful women, and every one of them
considered himself to be the national champion.

As Vicky's bounty wobbled and swung and bounced with agitation, the
four Italians gaped half in disbelief and half in delight.  The raised
weapons sank and were forgotten.  The Major attempted to rise to his
feet in a gesture of chivalry, but was thrust firmly backwards by the
Count.  The driver's foot slipped off the clutch and the Rolls bucked
violently and the engine stalled.  Gino uttered an oath of approval,
raised the camera, found the film was expended, swore again and opened
the camera without taking his eyes off Vicky, dropped it from clumsy
hands, and abandoned it, grinning beatifically at this blonde vision.

The Count began to raise his helmet, remembered he was now a warrior
and with his other hand threw out a Fascist salute, found he was still
gripping the pistol and did not have enough hands, so he held his
helmet and the pistol to his chest with one hand.

"Madam," he said, dark eyes flashing, his voice taking on a romantic
ring.  "My dear lady-" At that moment, the Major tried again to rise
and the Count shoved him back into the seat once more while Vicky
continued her tirade with no diminution in fervour.

Jake was completely forgotten by the Italians.  He took four running
steps and dived through the rear doors into the steel cab of the car.
He rolled over and dropped Sara into the space for the ammunition bins
behind the driver's seat, and in a continuation of the same movement he
kicked the doors closed and turned the locking handle.

"Drive!"  he shouted at Vicky, although only her backside was visible
as she stood on the driver's seat.  "Come on!"  and hauled her
downwards so that she sat with a thud on the hard leather seat, still
shouting abuse at the enemy.  "Drive!"  Jake shouted louder still. "Get
us out of here!"  The shocked dismay of the four Italians, as Vicky
disappeared abruptly from view like an inverted jack-in-abox, lasted
for many seconds and held them paralysed by disappointment.

Then the armoured car's engine roared and it bounded forward, straight
at them; swinging broadside at the last moment, it hit the Rolls only a
glancing blow, crumpling the front mudguard and shattering the glass
headlamp, before it tore off in its own dust storm towards the broken
ground beyond the wells.

Castelani was the first to act; he leaped to the ground and raced to
reach the crank handle, shouting at the driver to start the engine.  It
fired at the first kick and the Major sprang on to the running board.

"Chase them," he shouted in the driver's ear, brandishing his rifle,
and once again the driver sprang the clutch and the Rolls leapt forward
with such violence that the Count was tumbled backwards onto the soft
leather seat, his helmet sliding forward over his eyes, his polished
boots kicking to the skies and his trigger finger tightening
involuntarily.  The Beretta fired with a vicious crack and the bullet
flew an inch past Gino's ear, so that he fell to the floorboards on top
of his camera, and whimpered with fright.

"Faster!"  shouted the Major in the driver's ear.  "Head them off,
force them to turn!"  and his voice was louder and more authoritative.
He wanted a clean shot at the few vulnerable points in the car's armour
the driver's visor or the open gun-mounting.

"Stop!"  screeched the Count.  "I'll have you shot for this."  Side by
side, the two vehicles pitched and lurched together like a team in
harness, not ten feet separating them.

Within the armoured car, Vicky's vision through the visor was limited
to a narrow arc ahead, and she concentrated on that as she shouted,
"Where are they?"  Jake picked himself out of the corner where he and
Sara had been thrown, and crawled towards the command turret.

In the Rolls alongside, Castelani braced himself and raised the rifle.
Even at that close range, five of his shots struck the thick steel hull
with ringing sledgehammer blows and went whining away across the desert
spaces.  Only one bullet entered the narrow breech of the gun-mounting.
Trapped within the hull, it ricocheted amongst the three of them like
an angry living thing, splattering them with stinging slivers of lead,
and bringing death within inches before it ploughed into the back of
the driver's seat.

Jake popped his head out of the turret and discovered the Rolls running
hard beside them, the burly Major frantically reloading his empty
rifle, and the other passengers bouncing around helplessly.

"Driver!"  shouted Jake.  "Hard right!"  and felt a quick flush of
pride and affection as Vicky responded instantly.  She swung the great
armoured hull so suddenly that the other driver had no time to respond,
the two vehicles came together with a shower of bright white sparks and
a thunderous grinding crash.

"Save us, Mother of God!"  shrieked the Count.  "We are killed."  The
Rolls reeled under the impact, shearing off and losing ground, her
paintwork deeply scatted and her whole side dented and torn.  Castelani
had leaped nimbly into the back seat at the last possible moment,
avoiding having his legs crushed by the collision, and now he had
reloaded the rifle.

Closer," he shouted at the driver.  "Give me another shot at her!"  But
the Count had at last recovered his balance and pushed his helmet on to
the back of his head.

"Stop, you fool."  His voice was clear and urgent.  "You'll kill us
all," and the driver braked with patent relief, smiling for the first
time that day.

"Keep going, you idiot," said Castelani sternly, and placed the muzzle
of the rifle to the driver's ear hole  His smile switched off, and his
foot fell heavily on the pedal again.

Stop!"  said the Count, as he dragged himself up again, adjusted his
helmet with one hand and placed the muzzle of the Beretta pistol in the
driver's vacant ear hole  "I, your Colonel, command you."

"Keep going," growled Castelani.  And the driver closed his eyes
tightly, not daring to move his head, and roared straight at the
ramparts of red earth that guarded the wadi.

In the moment before the Rolls ploughed headlong into a wall of
sunbaked earth, the driver's dilemma was resolved for him.  Gregorius,
for lack of another ally, had appealed to his grandfather's warrior
instincts, and despite the vast quantities of tej that he had drunk,
that ancient had responded nobly, gathering his bodyguard about him and
outstripping them in the race down the wadi.  Only Gregorius himself
kept pace with the tall, gangling figure as he ran down to the plain.

The two of them came out side by side, and found the Rolls and the
white-painted armoured car bearing down on them at point-blank range in
a storm of dust.  It was a sight to daunt the bravest heart, and
Gregorius dived for the shelter of the red earth ramparts.  But the Ras
had killed his lion, and did not flinch.

He flung up the trusty old Martini Henry rifle.  The explosion of black
powder sounded like a cannon shot, a vast cloud of blue smoke blossomed
and a long red flame shot from the barrel.

The windscreen of the Rolls exploded in a silver burst of flying glass
splinters, one of which nicked the Count's chin.

"Holy Mary, I'm killed," cried the Count, and the driver needed nothing
further to tip his allegiance.  He swung the Rolls into a tight,
roaring U-turn and not all of Castelani's threats could deter him.  It
was enough.  He could take no more.  He was going home.

"My God," breathed Jake, as he watched the battered Rolls swinging
tightly away, and then gathering speed as it accelerated back towards
the ridge, the arms and weapons of its occupants still waving wildly,
and their voices raised in loud hysterical argument that faded with
distance.

The Ras's cannon boomed again, speeding them on their way, and Vicky
slowed the car as they came up to him.  Jake reached down and helped
the ancient gentleman aboard.

His eyes were bloodshot and he smelled like an abandoned brewery, but
his wizened old face was crinkled into a wicked grin of satisfaction.

"How do you do?"  he asked, with evident relish.

"Not bad, sir, "Jake assured him.  "Not bad at all."  little before
noon, the formation of armoured cars parked in the open grassland
twenty miles beyond the wells.  A halt had been called here to allow
the straggling mass of refugees that had escaped the slaughter at
Chaldi to come up with them, and this was the first opportunity that
Vicky had to work on Sara's leg.  It had stiffened in the last hour,
and the blood had clotted into a thick dark scab.  Though Sara made no
protest, she had paled to a muddy colour and was sweating in tiny beads
across her forehead and upper lip as Vicky cleaned the wound and poured
half a bottle of peroxide into it.  Vicky sought to distract her as she
worked by bringing up the subject of the dead they had left scattered
about the water, holes under the Italian guns.

Sara shrugged philosophically.  "Hundreds die every day of sickness and
hunger and from the fighting in the hills.

They die without purpose or reason.  These others have died for a
purpose.  They have died to tell the world about us--" and she broke
off and gasped as the disinfectant boiled in the wound.

"I am sorry," said Vicky quickly.

"it is nothing, "she said, and they were quiet for a while, then Sara
asked, "You will write it, won't you, Miss Camberwell?"

"Sure," Vicky nodded grimly.  "I'll write it good.  Where can I find a
telegraph office?"

"There is one at Sardi," Sara told her.  "At the railway office."

"What I write will burn out their lines for them, "promised Vicky, and
began to bind up the leg with a linen bandage from the medicine chest.
"We'll have to get these breeches off you."  Vicky inspected the
bloodstained and tattered velvet dubiously.  "They are so tight, it's a
wonder you haven't given yourself gangrene."

"They must be worn so," Sara explained.  "It was decreed by my
great-grandfather, Ras Abullahi."

"Good Lord."  Vicky was intrigued.  What on earth for?"

"The ladies in those days were very naughty," Sara explained primly.
"And my great-grandfather was a good man.  He thought to make the
breeches difficult to remove."  Vicky laughed delightedly.

"Do you think it helps?  "she demanded, still laughing.

"Oh no, Sara shook her head seriously.  "It makes it very hard."  She
spoke with the air of an expert, and then thought for a moment.  They
come down quickly enough it's when you want to get them up again in a
hurry that can be very difficult."

"Well, the only way we are going to get you out of these now is to cut
you loose."  Vicky was still smiling, as she took a large pair of
scissors from the medicine chest and Sara shrugged again with
resignation.

"They were very pretty before Jake tore them now it does not matter."
And she showed no emotion as Vicky snipped carefully along the seam and
peeled them off her.

"Now you must rest."  Vicky wrapped her naked lower body in a woollen
sham ma and helped her settle comfortably on one of the thin coir
mattresses spread on the floor of the car.

"Stay with me," Sara asked shyly, as Vicky picked up her portable
typewriter and would have climbed out of the rear doors.

"I must begin my despatch."

"You can work here.  I will be very quiet."

"Promise?"

"I promise," and Vicky opened the case and placed the typewriter in her
lap, sitting cross-legged.  She wound a sheet of fresh paper into the
machine, and thought for a moment.  Then her fingers flew at the keys.
Almost instantly, the anger and outrage returned to her and was
transferred smoothly into words and hammered out on the thin sheet of
yellow paper.  Vicky's cheeks flamed with colour and she tossed her
head occasionally to keep the tendrils of fine blonde hair out of her
eyes.

Sara watched her, keeping very still and silent until Vicky paused to
wind a fresh sheet into the typewriter, then she broke the silence.

"I have been thinking, Miss Camberwell,"she said.

"You have?"  Vicky did not look up.

"I think it should be Jake."

"Jake?"  Vicky glanced at her, baffled by this sudden shift in
thought.

"Yes," Sara nodded with finality.  "We will take Jake as your first
lover."  She made it sound like a group project.

"Oh, we will will we?"  The idea had already entered Vicky's head and
was almost firmly rooted, but she baulked instantly at Sara's bold
statement.

"He is so strong.  Yes!"  Sara went on.  "I think we will definitely
take Jake," and with that statement she dashed as low as they had ever
been the chances of Jake Barton.

Vicky snorted derisively, and flew at the typewriter once again.  She
was a lady who liked to make her own decisions.

The river of moving men and animals flowed wedge shaped across the
sparsely grassed and rolling landscape beneath the mountains.  Over it
all hung a fine mist of dust, like sea fret on a windy day, and the
sunlight caught and flashed from the burnished surfaces of the bronze
war shields and the lifted lance-tips.  Closer came the mass of riders
until the bright spots of the silk shammas of the officers and noblemen
showed clearly through the loom of the dust cloud.

Standing on the turret of Priscilla the Pig, Jake shaded the lens of
his binoculars with his helmet and tried to see beyond the dust clouds,
searching anxiously for any pursuit by the Italians.  He felt
goose-flesh march up his arms and tickle the thick hair at the nape of
his neck as he imagined this sprawling rabble caught in a crossfire of
modern machine guns, and he fretted for the arrival of their own
weapons which were lost somewhere amongst that ragged army.

He felt a touch on his shoulder and turned quickly to find Lij Mikhael
beside him.

"Thank you, Mr.  Barton,"said the Prince quietly, and Jake shrugged and
turned back to his scrutiny of the distant plains.

"It was not the correct thing but I thank you all the same."  How is
she?"

"I have just left her with Miss Camberwell.  She is resting and I think
she will be well."  They were silent a while longer, before Jake spoke
again.

"I'm worried, Prince.  We are wide open.  If the Italians chase now it
will be bloody murder.  Where are the guns?

We must have the guns."  Lij Mikhael pointed out on to the left rear
flank of the approaching host.

"There," and Jake noticed for the first time the ungainly shapes of the
pack camels, almost obscured by dust and distances, but standing taller
than the shaggy little Harari ponies that surrounded them, and
lumbering stolidly onwards towards where the cars waited.  "They will
be here in half an hour."  Jake nodded with relief.  He began planning
how he would arm the cars immediately, so that they could be deployed
to counter another Italian attack but the Prince interrupted his
thoughts.

"Mr.  Barton, how long have you known Major Swales?"  Jake lowered the
glasses and grinned.

"Sometimes I think too long," and regretted it, as he noticed the
Prince's immediate anxiety.

"No.  I didn't mean that.  It was a bad joke.  I haven't known him
long."

"We checked his record very carefully before " he hesitated.

"Before tricking him into taking on this commission," Jake suggested,
and the Prince smiled faintly and nodded.

"Precisely," he agreed.  "All the evidence suggests that he is an
unscrupulous man, but a skilled soldier with a proven record of
achievement in training raw recruits.  He is an expert weapons
instructor, with a full knowledge of the mechanism and exploitation of
modern weapons."  The Prince paused.

"Just don't get into a card game with him."

"I will take your advice, Mr.  Barton."  The Prince smiled fleetingly,
and then was serious again.  "Miss Camberwell called him a coward. That
is not so.  He was acting under my direct orders, as a soldier
should."

"Point taken," grinned Jake.  "But then I'm not a soldier, only a
grease monkey."  But the Prince brushed the disclaimer aside.

"He is probably a better man than he thinks he is," said Jake, and the
Prince nodded.

"His combat record in France is impressive.  The Military Cross and
three times mentioned in despatches."

"Yeah, you have me convinced," murmured Jake.  "Is that what you
wanted?"

"No," admitted the Prince reluctantly.  "I had hoped that you might
convince me," and they both laughed.

"And did you check my record also?  "Jake asked.

"No," admitted the Prince.  "The first time I ever heard of you was in
Dares Salaam.  You and your strange machines were a bonus a surprise
packet."  The Prince paused again, and then spoke so softly that Jake
barely caught the words, "and perhaps the best end of the bargain.
"Then he lifted his chin and looked steadily into Jake's eyes."

The anger is still with you," he said.  "

"I can see how strong it is."  With surprise, Jake realized that the
Prince was correct.

The anger was in him.  No longer the leaping flames that had kindled at
the first shock of the atrocity.  Those had burned down into a thick
glowing bed in the pit of his guts, but the memory of men and women
caught by the guns and the mortars would sustain that glow for a long
time ahead.

"I think now you are committed to us," the Lij went on softly, and Jake
was amazed at the man's perception.  He had not yet recognized that
commitment himself; for the first time since he had landed in Africa,
he was motivated by something outside himself.  He knew that he would
stay now, and that he would fight with the Lij and these people as long
as they needed him.  In an intuitive flash he realized that if these
simple people were enslaved, then all of mankind including Jake Barton
were themselves deprived of a measure of freedom.  A line, almost
forgotten, imperfectly learned long ago and not then understood
surfaced in his memory.

"No man is an island," - " he said, and the Lij nodded and continued
the quotation.

"entire of itself.  Any man's death diminishes me, because I am
involved in mankind"."  The Lifs dark eyes glowed.  "Yes, Mr.  Barton,
John Donne.  I think that in you I have been lucky.  You are fire, and
Gareth Swales is ice.  It will work for me.  Already there is a bond
between you."

"A bond?"  and Jake laughed, a brief harsh bark of laughter, but then
stopped and thought about the Prince's words.  The man had even greater
perception than Jake had at first realized.  He had a knack of turning
over unrecognized truths.

"Yes.  A bond," said the Lij.  "Fire and ice.  You will see."  They
were silent for a while, standing high on the steel turret of the car,
bare-headed in the sun, each man thinking his own thoughts.

Then the Lij roused himself and turned to point into the west.

"There is the heart of Ethiopia,"he said.  "The mountains."  They both
lifted their heads to the soaring peaks, and the great flat-topped
Ambas that characterized the Ethiopian highlands.

Each table land was divided from the next by sheer walls of riven rock,
blue with distance and remote as the clouds into which they seemed to
rise, and by the deep dark gorges that looked to split the earth like
the axe-stroke of a giant, plunging thousands upon thousands of feet to
the swiftly raging torrents in their depths.

"The mountains protect us.  For a hundred miles on each side no enemy
may pass.  "The Prince swept his arms wide to encompass the curving
blue wall of rock that faded both north and south into the smoky
distances where they merged with the paler bright blue of the sky.

"But there is the Sardi Gorge.  "Jake saw it cleave the wall of
mountains, a deep funnel driving into the rock perhaps fifteen miles
across at its widest point, but then narrowing swiftly and climbing
steeply towards the distant heights.

"The Sardi Gorge," the Prince repeated.  "A lance pointed into the
exposed flank of the Lion of Judah."  He shook his head and his
expression was troubled and once again that haunted, hunted look was in
his eyes.  "The Emperor, Negusa Nagast, Baile Selassie, has gathered
his armies in the north.

One hundred and fifty thousand men to meet the main thrust of the
Italians which must come from the north, out of Eritrea and through
Adowa.  The Emperor's flanks are secured by the mountains except here
at the gorge.  This is the only place at which a modern mechanized army
might win its way to the high ground.  The road up the gorge is steep
and rough, but the Italians are engineering masters.

Their road making wizardry dates back to the Caesars.  If they force
the mouth of the gorge, they could have fifty thousand men on the
highlands inside of a week."  He punched his fist upward towards the
far blue peaks.  "They would be across the Emperor's rear, between him
and his capital at Addis Ababa, with the road to the city wide open to
them. It would be the end for us and the Italians know it.  Their
presence here at the Wells of Chaldi proves it.

What we encountered there today was the advance guard of the enemy
attack which will come through the gorge."

Yes, "Jake agreed.  "it seems that is so."

"The Emperor has charged me with the defence of the Sardi Gorge, said
the Prince quietly.  "But at the same time he has ordained that the
great bulk of my fighting men must join his army which is now gathering
on the shores of Lake Tona, two hundred miles away in the west.  We
will be short of men, so short that without your cars and the new
machine guns you have brought to me, the task would be impossible."

"It isn't going to be a push-over, even with these beaten-up old
ladies."

"I know that, Mr.  Barton, and I am doing everything in my power to
improve the betting in our favour.  I am even treating with a
traditional enemy of the Harari to form a common front against the
enemy.  I am trying to put aside old feuds, and convince the Ras of the
Gallas to join us in the defence of the Gorge.  The man is a robber and
a degenerate, and his men are all shifta, mountain bandits, but they
fight well and every lance now arms us against the common enemy."  Jake
was conscious of the faith that the Prince was placing in him; he was
being treated like a trusted commander and his newly realized sense of
involvement was strengthened.

"An untrustworthy friend is the worst kind of enemy."

"I don't recognize that quotation?"  the Prince enquired.

"Jake Barton, mechanic.  "Jake grinned at him.  "Looks like we've got
ourselves a job of work.  What I want you to do is pick out some of
your really bright lads.  Ones that I can teach to drive a car or men
that Gareth can use as gunners."

"Yes.  I have already discussed that with Major Swales.

He made the same suggestion.  I will hand-pick my best for you."
"Young ones, "said Jake.  "Who will learn quickly."  The Ras sat
crouched like an ancient vulture in the strip of shade thrown by
Gareth's car, the Hump; his eyes were narrowed like those of a sniper
and he mumbled to himself.  drooling a little with excitement.

When Gregorius reached out and tried to view the fan of cards that the
Ras held secretively to his bosom, his hand was slapped away angrily,
and a storm of Amharic burst about him.  Gregorius was justly put out
of countenance by this, for he was, after all, his grandfather's
interpreter.  He complained to Gareth, who squatted opposite the Ras
holding his own cards carefully against the front of his tweed
jacket.

"He does not want me to help him any more," protested Gregorius.  "He
says he understands the game now."

"Tell him he is a natural."  Gareth squinted around the smoke that
spiralled upwards from the cheroot in the corner of his mouth.  "Tell
him he could go straight into the salon priva at Monte Carlo."  The Ras
grinned and nodded happily at the compliment, and then scowled with
concentration as he waited for Gareth to discard.

"Anyone for the ladies?"  Gareth asked innocently as he laid the queen
of hearts face up on the inverted ammunition box that stood between
them, and the Ras squawked with delight and snatched it up.  Then he
hammered on the box like an auctioneer and began laying out his hand.

"Skunked, by God!"  Gareth's face crumpled in a convincing display of
utter dismay and the Ras nodded and twinkled and drooled.

"How do you do?"  he asked triumphantly, and Gareth judged that the
Christmas turkey was now sufficiently fattened and ready for
plucking.

"Ask your venerable grandfather if he would like a little interest on
the next game.  I suggest a Maria Theresa a point?"  and Gareth held up
one of the big silver coins between thumb and forefinger to illustrate
the suggestion.

The Ras's response was positive and gratifying.  He summoned one of his
bodyguard, who drew a huge purse of lion skin from out of his
voluminous sham ma and opened it.

"Hallelujah!"  breathed Gareth, as he saw the sparkle of golden
sovereigns in the recesses of the purse.  "Your deal, old sport!"  The
controlled dignity of the Count's bearing was modelled aristocratically
on that of the Duce himself.  It was that of the aristocrat, of the man
born to command.  His dark eyes flashed with scorn, and his voice rang
with a deep beauty that sent shivers up his own spine.

"A peasant, reared in the gutters of the street.  I am amazed that such
a person can have reached a rank such as Major.  A person like
yourself-" and his right arm shot Out with the accusing finger straight
as a pistol barrel, you are a nobody, an upstart.  I blame myself that
I was soft-hearted enough to place you in a position of trust.  Yes, I
blame myself.  That is the reason I have until this time overlooked
your impudence, your importunity.  But this time you have over reached
yourself, Castelani.  This time you have refused to obey a direct
command from your own Colonel in the face of the enemy.  This I cannot
ignore!"  The Count paused, and a shadow of regret passed fleetingly
behind his eyes.  "I am a compassionate man, Castelani but I am also a
soldier.

I cannot, in deference to this honoured uniform that I wear, overlook
your conduct.  You know the penalty for what you have done, for
disobeying your superior officer in the face of the enemy."  He paused
again, the chin coming up and dark fires burning in his eyes.  "The
penalty, Castelani, is death.

And so it must be.  You will be an example to my men.  This evening, as
the sun is about to set, you will be led before the assembled battalion
and stripped of your badges of rank, of the beloved insignia of this
proud command, and then you will meet your just deserts before the
rifles of the firing squad  It was a longish speech, but the Count was
a trained baritone and he ended it dramatically with arms spread wide.
He held the pose after he had finished and watched himself with
gratification in the full-length mirror before which he stood.  He was
alone in his tent, but he felt as though he faced a wildly applauding
audience.  Abruptly he turned from the mirror, strode to the entrance
of the tent and threw back the flap.

The sentries sprang to attention and the Count barked, "Have Major
Castelani summoned here immediately."

"Immediately, my Colonel," snapped the sentry, and the Count let the
flap drop back into place.

Castelani came within ten minutes and saluted smartly from the entrance
of the tent.

"You sent for me, my Colonel?"

"My dear Castelani."  The Count rose from his desk; the strong white
teeth contrasted against the dark olive-gold tan, as he smiled with all
his charm and went to take the Major's arm.  "A glass of wine, my dear
fellow?"  Aldo Belli was enough of a realist to see that without
Castelani's professional eye and arm guiding the battalion, it would
collapse like an unsuccessful souffle, or more probably like a
dynamited cliff upon his head.  Passing sentence of death on the man
had relieved the COUnt's feelings, and now he could feel quite
favourably disposed towards him.

"Be seated," he said, indicating the camp chair opposite his desk.

"There are cigars in the humidor."  He beamed fondly, like a father at
his eldest son.  "I would like you to read through this report and to
place your signature in the space I have marked."  Castelani took the
sheaf of papers and began to read, frowning like a bulldog and with his
lips forming the words silently.  After a few minutes, he looked
startled and glanced up at Aldo Belli.

"my Colonel, I doubt if it was forty thousand savages that attacked
us."

"A matter of opinion, Castelani.  It was dark.  No one will ever know
for certain how many there were."  The Count waved the objection aside
with a genial smile.  "It is merely an informed estimate read on.  You
will find I have good things to say of your conduct."  And the Major
read on and blanched.

"Colonel, the enemy casualties were 126 dead, not 12,600."

"Ah, a slip of the pen, Major, I will correct that before sending it to
headquarters."

"Sir, you make no mention of the enemy possessing an armoured vehicle."
And the Count frowned for the first time since the beginning of the
meeting.

"Armoured vehicle, Castelani, surely you mean an ambulance?"  The
encounter with the strange machine was best forgotten, he had decided.
It reflected no credit on anybody particularly none upon himself It
would merely add a jarring note to the splendours of his report.

"It would be quite in the normal course of things for the enemy to have
some sort of medical service not worth mentioning.  Read on!  Read on!
Caro mio, you will find that I have recommended you for a decoration."
eneral De Bono had summoned his staff to a lunchtime conference to
appraise the readiness of the expeditionary force to commence its
invasion of the Ethiopian highlands.  These conferences were a weekly
affair, and the General's staff had not taken long to understand that
in exchange for a really superb luncheon, for the reputation of the
General's chef was international, they were expected to provide the
General with good reasons which he might relay to the Duce for delaying
the start of the offensive.  The staff had fully entered into the
spirit of the game, and some of their offerings had been inspired.
However, even their fertile imaginations were now beginning to plough
barren land.  The Inspector General of the Medical Corps had
tentatively diagnosed a straightforward case of gonorrhoca contracted
by an infantry man as "suspected smallpox" and had written a very good
scare story warning of a possible epidemic but the General was not
certain whether it could be used or not.  They needed aj something
better than that.  They were discussing this now over the cigars and
liqueurs, when the door of the dining room was thrown open and Captain
Crespi hurried to the head of the table.  His face was flushed, and his
eyes wild, his manner so agitated that an electric silence fell over
the roomful of very senior and slightly inebriated officers.

Crespi handed a message to the General, and he was so disturbed that
what was intended as a whisper came out as a strangled cry of
outrage.

"The clown!"  he panted.  "The clown has done it!"  The General,
alarmed by this enigmatic statement, snatched the message and his eyes
flew across the sheet before he handed it to the officer beside him and
covered his face with both hands.

"The idiot!"  he wailed, while the message passed swiftly from hand to
hand, and a hubbub of raised voices followed it.

"At least, your Excellency, it is a great victory," called an infantry
commander, and suddenly the entire mood of the assembly changed.

"My planes are ready, General.  We await the word to follow up this
masterly strategy of yours," cried the Commander of the Regia
Aeronautica, leaping to his feet and the General uncovered his eyes and
looked confused.

"Congratulations, my General," called an artilleryman, and struggled
unsteadily upright, spilling port down the front of his jacket.  "A
mighty victory."

"Oh dear!"  murmured De Bono.  "Oh dear!"  "An unprovoked attack by a
horde of savages" - Crespi had retrieved the message and read the
memorable words of Count Aldo Belli aloud "firmly resisted by the
courage of the flower of Italian manhood."  "Oh dear!"  said De Bono a
little louder, and covered his eyes again.

"Almost fifteen thousand of the enemy dead!"  shouted a voice.

"An army of sixty thousand routed by a handful of Fascist sons.  It is
a sign for the future."

"Forward to the ultimate victory."

"We march!  We march!"  And the General looked up again.  "Yes," he
agreed miserably.  "I suppose we shall have to now."  The Third
Battalion of the black shirt "Africa" regiment was paraded in full
review order on the sandy plain above the Wells of Chaldi.  The ground
was neatly demarcated by the meticulous rows of pale canvas tents and
neat lines of white stones.  In twenty-four hours, under the goading of
Major Castelani, the camp had taken on an air of permanence.  If they
gave him a day or two more, there would be roads and buildings also.

Count Aldo Belli stood in the back of the Rolls, which, despite the
loving attentions of Giuseppe the driver, was showing signs of wear and
attrition.  However, Giuseppe had parked it with the damaged side away
from the parade and he had burnished the good side with a mixture of
beeswax and methylated spirits until it shone in the sunlight, and had
replaced the shattered windscreen and the broken lamp glass.

"I have here a message received an hour ago which I shall read to you,"
shouted the Count, and the parade stirred with interest.  "The message
is personal to me from Benito Mussolini."

"II Duce.  11 Duce.  "Duce,"roared the battalion in unison, like a
well-trained orchestra, and the Count lifted a hand to restrain them
and he began to read.

"My heart swells with pride when I contemplate the feat of arms
undertaken by the gallant sons of Italy, children of the Fascist
revolution, whom you command'-" the Count's voice choked a little.

When the speech ended, his men cheered him wildly, throwing their
helmets in the air.  "The Count climbed down from the Rolls and went
amongst them, weeping, embracing a man here, kissing another there,
shaking hands left and right and then clasping his own hands above his
head like a successful prizefighter and crying "Ours is the victory,"
and "Death before dishonour," until his voice was hoarse and he was led
away to his tent by two of his officers.

However, a glass of grappa helped him recover his composure and he was
able to pour a warrior's scorn on the radio message from General De
Bono which accompanied the paean of praise from 11 Duce.

De Bono was alarmed and deeply chagrined to discover that the officer
he had judged to be an ineffectual blowhard had indeed turned out to be
a firebrand.  In view of the Duce's personal message to the count, he
could not, without condemning himself to the political wilderness,
order the man back to headquarters and under his protective wing where
he could be restrained from any further flamboyant action.

The man had virtually established himself as an independent command.
Mussolini had chided De Bono with his failure to go on the offensive,
and had held up the good Count's action as an example of duty and
dedication.  He had directly ordered De Bono to support the Count's
drive on the Sardi Gorge and to reinforce him as necessary.

De Bono's response had been to send the Count a long radiogram, urging
him to the utmost caution and pleading with him to advance only after
reconnaissance in depth and after having secured both flanks and
rear.

Had he delivered this advice forty-eight hours earlier, it would have
been most enthusiastically received by Aldo Belli.  But now, since the
victory at the Wells of Chaldi and wou the Duce's congratulatory
message, the Count was a changed man.  He had tasted the sweets of
battle honours and learned how easily they could be won.  He knew now
that he was opposed by a tribe of primitive black men in long night,
dresses armed with museum weapons, who ran and fell with gratifying
expedition when his men opened fire.

"Gentlemen," he addressed his officers.  "I have today received a code
green message from General De Bono.  The armies of Italy are on the
march.  At twelve hundred hours today," he glanced at his wrist-watch,
"in just twelve minutes" time, the forward elements of the army will
cross the Mareb River and begin the march on the savage capital of
Addis Ababa.  We stand now at the leading edge of the sword of history.
The fields of glory are ripening on the mountains ahead of us and the
for one, intend that the Third Battalion shall be there when the
harvest is gathered in."  His officers made polite, if uncommitted
sounds.  They were beginning to be alarmed by this change in their
Colonel.  It was to be hoped that this was rhetoric rather than real
intention.

"Our esteemed commander has urged me to exercise the utmost caution in
my advance on the Sardi Gorge," and they smiled and nodded vehemently,
but the Count scowled dramatically and his voice rang.  "I will not sit
here quiescent, while glory passes me by."  A shudder of unease ran
through the assembled officers, like the forest shaken by the first
winds of winter, and they joined in only halfheartedly when the Count
began to sing' La Giovinezza'.

Lij Mikhael had agreed that one of the cars might be used to carry Sara
up the gorge to the town of Sardi where a Catholic mission station was
run by an elderly German doctor.  The bullet wound in the girl's leg
was not healing cleanly, and the heat and swelling of the flesh and the
watery yellow discharge from the wound were causing Vicky the greatest
concern.

Fuel for the cars had come down from Addis Ababa on the narrow gauge
railway as far as Sardi, and had then been packed down the steeper,
lower section of the gorge by mule and camel.  It waited for them now
at the foot of the gorge where the Sardi River debauched through a
forest of acacia trees into a triangular valley, which in turn widened
to a mouth fifteen miles across before giving way to the open desert.
At the head of the valley, the river sank into the dry earth and began
its long subterranean journey to where it emerged at last in the
scattered water-holes at the Wells of Chaldi.

Lij Mikhael was going up to Sardi with Vicky's car for he had arranged
to meet the Ras of the Gallas there in an attempt to co-ordinate the
efforts of the two tribes against the Italian aggressors, and then an
aircraft was being sent down to Sardi from Addis to fly him to an
urgent war conference with the Emperor at Lake Tona.

Before he left, he spoke privately with Jake and Gareth, walking with
them a short way along the rugged road that climbed steeply up the
gorge following the rocky water course Of the Sardi River.

Now they stood together, staring up the track to where it turned into
the first sleep bend and the river came crashing down beside it in a
tall white-plumed waterfall that drifted mist across the surface of the
track and induced a growth of dark green moss upon the boulders.

"It's as rough as a crocodile's back here," said Jake.  "Will Vicky get
the car up?"

"I have had a thousand men at work upon it ever since I knew you were
bringing these vehicles," the Lij told him.

"It is rough, yes, but I think it will be passable."

"I should jolly well hope so," Gareth murmured.  "It's the only way out
of this lovely little trap into which we have backed ourselves.  Once
the Eyeties close the entrance to the valley-" and he turned and swept
a hand across the vista of plain and mountain that lay spread below
them, and then he smiled at the Prince.

"Just the three of us here now, Toffee old boy.  Let's hear from you.
What exactly do you want from us?  What are the objectives you have set
for us?  Are we expected to defeat the whole bloody army of Italy
before you pay us out?"

"No, Major Swales."  The Prince shook his head.  "I thought I had made
myself clear.  We are here to cover the rear and flank of the Emperor's
army.  We must expect that eventually the Italians will force their way
up this gorge and reach the plateau and the road to Dessie and Addis we
can't stop them, but we must delay them at least until the main
engagements in the north are decided.  If the Emperor succeeds, the
Italians will withdraw here.  If he fails, then our task is over."

"How long until the Emperor fights?"

"Who can tell?"  And Jake shook his head, while Gareth took the stub of
his cigar from his mouth and inspected the tip ruefully.

"I'm beginning to think we are being underpaid," he said.

But the Prince seemed not to hear and he went on speaking quietly but
with a f( -)rce that commanded their attention.

"We will use the cars here on the open ground in front of the gorge to
the best possible effect, and my father's troops will support you."  He
paused, and they all looked down at the sprawling encampment of the
Ras's army, amongst the acacia trees.  Stragglers were still drifting
in across the plain from the rout at the wells, lines of camels and
knots of goo NEW 40it horsemen surrounded by amorphous formations of
foot soldiers.  "If the Gallas join us, they can provide another five
thousand fighting men that will bring our strength to twelve thousand
or thereabouts.  I have had my scouts study the Italian encampment, and
they report an effective strength of under a thousand.  Even with their
armaments, we should hold them here for many days "Unless they are
reinforced, which they will be, or bring up armour, which they will do,
"said Gareth.

"Then we will withdraw into the gorge demolishing the road as we go,
and resisting at each strong place.  We won't be able to use the cars
again until we reach Sardi but there in the bowl of the mountains there
is good open ground and room to manoeuvre.  It is also the last point
at which we can effectively block the Italian advance."  They were
silent again and the sound of an engine came up to them.  They watched
the armoured car reach the foot of the gorge and begin growling and
nosing its way upwards, at the pace of a walking man, except where it
had to back and lock hard to make one of the sleep hairpin bends in the
road.  The Lij roused himself and sighed with what seemed a deep
weariness of the spirit.

"One thing I must mention to you, gentlemen.  My father is a warrior in
the old style.  He does not know the meaning of fear, and he cannot
imagine the effect of modern weapons especially the machine gun on
massed foot soldiers.  I trust you to restrain his exuberance."  Jake
remembered the bodies hanging like dirty laundry on the barbed wire of
France, and felt the cold tickle run up his spine.  Nobody spoke again
until the car, still blazoned with its crimson crosses, drew up level
with where they stood and they scrambled down the bank to meet it.

Vicky's head appeared in the hatch.  She must have found an opportunity
to bathe, for her hair was newly washed and shiny and caught behind her
head in a silk ribbon.  The sun had bleached her hair to a whiter gold,
but the peachy velvet of her complexion had been gilded by that same
sun to a darker honey colour.  Immediately Jake and Gareth moved
forward, neither trusting the other to be alone with her for an
instant.

But she was brusque, and concerned only with the injured girl who was
laid out on the floor of the cab on a hastily improvised bed of
blankets and skins.  Her leave-taking was off-hand and distracted while
the Lij climbed in through the rear doors, and she pulled away again up
the steep track followed by a squadron of the Prince's bodyguard
looking like a gang of cut-throats on their shaggy mountain ponies,
festooned with bandoliers of ammunition and hung with rifles and
swords.  They clattered away after the car, and Jake watched them out
of sight.  He felt a sense of deep unease that the girl should be up
there in the mountains beyond any help that he could give her.  He was
staring after the car.

"Put your mind back in your pants," Gareth advised him cynically.
"You're gain" to need it for the Eyeties, now."  from the foot of the
gorge to the lip of the bowl of land in which stood the town of Sardi
was a few dozen miles across the ground, but the track climbed five
thousand feet and it took six hours of hard driving for Vicky to reach
it.

The Prince's labour gangs were working upon the track still, groups of
dark men in mud-stained shairmias, hacking away at the steep banks and
piles of boulders that blocked the narrow places.  Twice these men had
to rope up the car to drag and shove it over a particularly treacherous
stretch with the torrent roaring in its bed a hundred feet below and
the wheels of the car inches from the crumbling edge of the
precipice.

In the middle of the afternoon the sun passed behind the towering
ramparts of stone leaving the gut of the gorge in deep shadow, and a
clammy chill made Vicky shiver even as she wrestled with the controls
of the heavy vehicle.  The engine was running very unevenly, and
back-firing explosively at the change of atmospheric pressure as they
toiled upwards.  Also Sara's condition seemed to be worsening rapidly.
When Vicky stopped briefly to rest her aching arms and back muscles she
found that Sara was running a raging fever, her skin was dry and baking
hot and her dark eyes were glittering strangely.  She cut short her
rest and took the wheel again.

The gorge narrowed dramatically, so the sky was a narrow ribbon of blue
high above and the cliffs seemed almost to close jaws of granite upon
the labouring car.  Although it seemed impossible, the track turned
even more steeply upwards so that the big back wheels spun and skidded,
throwing out fist-sized stones like cannon balls and scattering the
escort who followed closely.

Then abruptly Vicky drove the car over the crest and came out through
rocky portals into a wide, gently inclined bowl of open ground hemmed
in completely by the mountain walls.  Perhaps twenty miles across, the
bowl was cultivated in patches, and scattered with groups of the round
tukuL-, the thatch and daub huts of the peasant farmers.

Domestic animals, goats and a few milk cows grazed along the course of
the Sardi River where the grass was green and lush and thick forests of
cedar trees found a precarious purchase along the rocky banks.

The town itself was a gathering of brick-built and white, plastered
buildings, whose roofs of galvanized corrugated iron caught the last
probing rays of the sun as it came through the western pass.

Here in the west, the mountains fell back, allowing a broad gentle
incline to rise the last two thousand feet to the level of the plateau
of the highlands.  Down this slope, the narrow-gauge railway looped in
a tight series of hairpins until it entered the town and ended in a
huddle of sheds and stock pens.

The Catholic mission station was situated beyond the town on the slopes
of the western rise.  It was a sadly dilapidated cluster of tin-roofed
daub buildings, grouped around a church built of the same materials.
The church was the only building that was freshly whitewashed.  As they
drove past the open doors, Vicky saw that the rows of rickety pews were
empty, but that lighted candles burned upon the altar and there were
fresh flowers in the vases.

The church's emptiness and the sorry state of the buildings were a
reflection of the massive power of the Coptic Church over this land and
its people.  There was very little encouragement given to the
missionaries of any other faith, but this did not prevent the local
inhabitants from taking advantage of the medical facilities offered by
the mission.

Almost fifty patients squatted along the length of the veranda that ran
the full length of the clinic, and they looked up with minimal interest
as Vicky parked the armoured car below them.

The doctor was a heavily built man, with short bowed legs and a thick
neck.  His hair was cropped close to the round skull and was silvery
white, and his eyes were a pale blue.  He spoke no English, and he
acknowledged Vicky with a glance and a grunt, transferring all his
attention to Sara.  When two of his assistants rolled her carefully on
to a stretcher and carried her up on to the veranda, Vicky would have
followed but the Lij restrained her.

"She is in the best hands and we have work to do."  The telegraph
office at the railway station was closed and locked, but in answer to
the Prince's shouts the station master came hurrying anxiously down the
track.  He recognized Mikhael immediately.

The process of tapping out Vicky's despatch on the telegraph was a
long, laborious business, almost beyond the ability of the station
master whose previous transmissions had seldom exceeded a dozen words
at a time.  He frowned and muttered to himself as he worked, and Vicky
wondered in what mangled state her masterpiece of the journalistic art
would reach her editor's desk in New York.  The Prince had left her and
gone off with his escort to the official government residence on the
outskirts of the village, and it was after nine o'clock before the
station master had sent the last of Vicky's despatch a total of almost
five thousand words and Vicky found that her legs were unsteady and her
brain woolly with fatigue when she went out into the utter darkness of
the mountain night.  There were no stars, for the night mists had
filled the basin and swirled in the headlights as Vicky groped her way
through the village and at last found the government residence.

It was a large sprawling complex of buildings with wide verandas,
whitewashed and iron-roofed, standing in a grove of dark-foliaged cosa
flora trees from which the bats screeched and fluttered to dive upon
the insects that swarmed in the light from the windows of the main
building.

Vicky halted the car in front of the largest building and found herself
surrounded by silent but watchful throngs of dark men, all of them
heavily armed like the Harari she knew, but these were a different
people.  She did not know why, but she was sure of it.

There were many others camped in the grove.  She could see their fires
and hear the stamp and snort of their tethered horses, the voices of
the women and the laughter of the men.

The throng opened for her and she crossed the veranda and entered the
large room which was crowded with many men, and lit by the smoky
paraffin lamps that hung from the ceiling.  The room stank of male
sweat, tobacco and the hot spicy aroma of food and tej.

A hostile silence fell as she entered, and Vicky stood uncertainly on
the threshold, scrutinized by a hundred dark suspicious eyes, until Lij
Mikhael rose from where he sat at the far end of the room.

"Miss Camberwell."  He took her hand.  "I was beginning to worry about
you.  Did you send your despatch?"  He led her across the room and
seated her beside him, before he indicated the man who sat opposite
him.

"This is Ras Kullah of the Gallas," he said, and despite her weariness,
Vicky studied him with interest.

Her first impression was identical to that she had received from the
men amongst the cosa flora trees outside in the darkness.  There was a
veiled hostility, a coldness of the spirit about the man, almost
reptilian aura about the dark unblinking eyes.

He was a young man, still in his twenties, but his face and body were
bloated by disease or debauchery so that there was a soft jelly-like
look to his flesh.  The skin was a pale creamy colour, unhealthy and
clammy, as though it had never been exposed to sunlight.  His lips were
full and petulant, a startling cherry red in colour that ill suited the
pale tones of his skin.

He watched Vicky, when the Prince introduced her, with the same dead
expression in his eyes, but gave no acknowledgement though the flat
snakelike eyes moved slowly over her body, like loathsome hands,
dwelling and lingering on her breasts and her legs, before moving back
to Lij Mikhael's face.

The pudgy, swollen hands lifted a buck-horn pipe to the dark cherry
lips and Ras Kullah drew deeply upon it holding the smoke in his lungs
before exhaling slowly.

When Vicky smelled the smoke, she knew the reason for the dead eyes in
the Ras's puffy face.

"You have not eaten all day," said Lij Mikhael, and gave instructions
for food to be brought to Vicky.  "You will excuse me now, Miss
Camberwell, the Ras speaks no English and our negotiations are still at
an early stage.  I have ordered a room made ready where you may rest as
soon as you have eaten.  We shall be talking all the night," the Lij
smiled briefly, "and saying very little, for a blood feud of a hundred
years is what we are talking around."  He turned back to the Ras.

The hot, spicy food warmed and filled the cold hollow place in the pit
of Vicky's stomach, and a mug of fiery tej made her choke and gasp, but
then lifted her spirits and revived her journalist's curiosity so that
she could look again with interest at what was happening around her.

The interminable discussion went on between the two men, cautious
plodding negotiations between implacable luctantly drawn together by a
greater danger and enemies, a more powerful adversary.

On either side Ras sat two young women, pale sloe-eyed creatures, with
noble regular features and thick dark hair frizzled out into a stiff
round bush that caught the light of the lanterns and glowed along the
periphery like a luminous halo.  They sat impassively showing no
emotion, even when the Ras fondled one or the other of them with the
absent-minded caress that he might have bestowed on a lap dog.

Only once, as he took a fat round breast in one plump soft paw and
squeezed it, the girl winced slightly and Vicky seeing the crimson
linen of her blouse dampened in a wet dark patch at the nipple realized
that the girl's breast was heavy with milk.

Vicky's artificial sense of well-being was fast fading now, sinking
once again under the weight of her weariness, and lulled by the food in
her belly, the thick smoky atmosphere and the hypnotic cadence of the
Amharic language.  She was on the point of excusing herself from the
Lij and leaving when there was a disturbance outside the room, and the
shrill angry cries of a voice creaking with age and indi nation The
room was immediately electric with a charged feeling of expectation,
and Ras Kullah looked up and called out querulously.

A youth of perhaps nineteen years of age was dragged into the room and
held by two armed guards in the centre of the hastily cleared space
before Ras Kullah.  His arms were bound with rawhide that cut deeply
into the flesh of his wrists, and his face was wet and shiny with the
sweat of fear, while his eyes rolled wildly in their sockets.

He was followed by a shrieking crone, a wizened baboon like figure,
swathed in a voluminous black sham mastiff with filth and greenish with
age.  Repeatedly she attempted to attack the captive youth, clawing at
his face with bony hooked fingers, her toothless old mouth opened in a
dark pink-lined pit as she leaped and cavorted before the terrified
youth, trying again and again to reach him, while the two guys pushed
her away with c ee gu aw and playful blows, never relinquishing their
grip on their prisoner.

The Ras leaned forward to watch this play with awakening interest, his
dark dull eyes taking on a sparkle of anticipation as he asked a
question, and the crone flew to him and flung herself full-length
before him.

She began to bleat out a long high-pitched plea, attempting at the same
time to grasp and kiss the Ras's feet.  The Ras giggled with
anticipation, kicking away the old woman's hands and occasionally
asking a question that was answered either by the guards or the
grovelling crone.

"Miss Camberwell whispered the Prince.  "I suggest that you leave now.
This will not be pleasant to watch."

"What is it?"  Vicky demanded, her professional instincts roused. "What
are they doing?"  "The woman accuses the youth of murdering her son.

The guards are her witnesses and the Ras is trying the case.

He will give judgement in a moment, and the sentence will be carried
out immediately."

Here?  "Vicky looked startled.

"Yes, Miss Camberwell.  I urge you to leave.  The punishment will be
biblical, from the Old Testament which is the centre of the Coptic
faith.  It will be a tooth for a tooth."  Vicky hesitated to take the
Prince's advice, all human experience was her field no matter how
bizarre, and suddenly it was too late.

Laughingly, the Ras thrust the old woman away again with a kick to the
chest that sent her sprawling across the beaten earth floor and he
called a peremptory command to the guards who held the accused youth.
Flapping like a maimed black crow upon the floor, the crone set up a
wailing shriek of triumph as she heard the verdict, and she tried to
regain her feet.  The guards guffawed again and began to strip away the
condemned man's clothing, tearing it from his body until he stood
completely naked except for his bonds.

The crowded room now buzzed with excitement at the coming
entertainment, and the doorway and windows were packed with those who
had come in from the encampment amongst the cosa flora trees.  Even the
two impassive madonnas who flanked the Ras had become animated, leaning
forward to chatter softly to each other, smiling secretly as their
dark-moon eyes shone and the full swollen breasts swung heavily under
the thin material of their blouses.

The doomed youth was whimpering softly, his head turning back and
forth, as though seeking escape, his naked body slim and finely muscled
with dark amber skin that, glowed in the lamplight, and his arms bound
tightly behind his back.  His legs were long and the muscles looked
hard and beautifully sculptured, and the dark bush of curls in his
groin was dense and crisp-looking.  His thick circumcised penis hung
limply, seeming to epitomize the man's despair.

Vicky tried to tear her eyes away, ashamed to look upon a human being
stripped thus of all dignity, but the spectacle was mesmeric.

The old woman hopped and flapped in front of the captive, her wrinkled
brown features contorted in an expression of utter malice and she
opened her toothless mouth and spat into his face.  The spittle ran
down his cheek and dripped on to his chest.

"Please leave now," Lij Mikhael urged Vicky, and she tried to rise, but
it seemed that her legs would not respond.

One of the Galla warriors sitting opposite Vicky drew the narrow-bladed
dagger from the tooled leather sheath on his hip.  The handle was
carved from the horn of a kudu bull and bound with copper wire, the
blade was slightly curved and viciously pointed, twice the span of a
man's hand in length.  He shouted to attract the woman's attention,
then sent the weapon skidding across the floor towards her and she
pounced upon it with another gleeful shriek and pranced before the
cringing youth, brandishing the knife while the watchers shouted
encouragement to her.

The captive began to twist and struggle, watching the knife with the
fixed concentration of despair and terror, but the two tall guards held
him easily, chuckling like a pair of gaunt ogres, watching the knife
also.

The old woman let out one more high-pitched shriek, and leapt at him
the long skinny black arm lunged out, the point of the blade aimed at
his heart.  The woman's strength was too frail to drive it home, and
the point struck bone and glanced aside, skidding around the ribcage,
opening a long shallow cut that exposed the white bone in its depths
for the instant before blood flooded out between the lips of the wound.
A howl of delight went up from the assembled Gallas, and they goaded on
the avenger with mocking cries and yips like those of a pack of excited
jackals.

Again and again the old woman struck, and the youth kicked and
struggled, his guards roaring with laughter and the blood from the
shallow wounds flying and sparkling in the lamplight, splattering the
old woman's knife arm and speckling her angry screeching face.  Her
frustration made her blows more wild and feeble.

Unable to penetrate his chest, she turned her attack upon his face. One
blow split his nose and upper lip, and the next slashed across his eye,
turning the socket instantly into a dark blood-glutted hole.  The
guards let him fall to the floor.

The old woman leapt upon his chest and, clinging to him like a huge,
grotesque vampire bat, she began to saw determinedly at the youth's
throat until at last the carotid artery erupted, dousing her robes and
puddling the floor on which they rolled together while the Galla
watchers roared their approbation.

Only then could Vicky move; she leapt to her feet and pushed her way
through the throng that jammed the doorway and ran out into the cool
night.  She realized that her blouse was damp with the sweat of nausea
and she leaned against the stem of a cosa flora tree, trying to fight
it, unavailingly; then she doubled over and retched tearingly, choking
up her horror.

The horror stayed with her for many hours, denying her the sleep her
body craved.  She lay alone in the small room that Lij Mikhael had
ordered for her, and listened to the drums beating and the shouts of
laughter and bursts of singing from the Galla encampment amongst the
cosa flora trees.

When she slept at last, it was not for long, and then she awoke to a
soft tickling movement on her skin and the first fiery itch across her
belly.

Disgusted by the loathsome touch she threw aside the single blanket and
lit the candle.  Across the flat smooth plain of her belly, the bites
of vermin were strung like a girdle of angry red beads and she
shuddered, her whole body crawling with the thought of it.

She spent what remained of the night huddled uncomfortably on the floor
of the armoured car.  The mountain cold struck through the steel of
Miss Wobbly's hull, and Vicky shivered into the dawn, scratching
morosely at the hot lumps across her stomach.  Then she filled the
growling ache of her empty stomach with a tin of cold corned beef from
the emergency rations in the locker under the driver's seat, before
driving up the slope of the western pass to the German mission station
where she experienced the first lift of spirits since the horrors of
the night.

Sara had responded almost miraculously to the treatment she was
receiving, and although she was still weak and a little shaky, the
fever had abated, and she was once more able to give Vicky the benefit
of her vast wisdom and worldly experience.

Vicky sat beside the narrow iron bedstead in the overcrowded ward,
while other patients coughed and groaned around her, and held Sara's
thin dry hand from which the flesh seemed to have wasted overnight and
poured out to her the horrors still pent up inside her.

"Ras Kullah," Sara made a moue of disgust.  "He is a degenerate man,
that one.  Did he have his milk cows with him?"  Vicky was for a moment
at a loss, until she remembered the two madonnas.  "His men scour the
mountains to keep him supplied with pretty young mothers in full milk
ugh!"  She shuddered theatrically, and Vicky felt her unsettled stomach
quail.  "That and his hemp pipe and the sight of blood.  He is an
animal.  His people are animals they have been our enemies since the
time of Solomon, and it shames me now that we must have them to fight
beside us."  Then she changed the subject in her usual mercurial
fashion.

"Will you go down the pass again today?"

"Yes," Vicky said, and Sara sighed.

"The doctor says that I cannot go with you not for many days still."

"I will fetch you, as soon as you are ready."

"No.  No," she protested.  "It is shorter and easier on horseback.  I
will come immediately but until then carry My love to Gregorius.  Tell
him my heart beats with great fury for him, and he walks through my
thoughts eternally."

"I will tell him," agreed Vicky, delighted at the sentiment and the
choice of words.  At that moment a tall young man in a white jacket,
with the face of a brown pharaoh and huge dark eyes, came to record
Sara's temperature, stooping solicitously over her and murmuring softly
in Amharic as he felt for her pulse with delicate finely shaped
hands.

Sara was transformed instantly into a languid wanton, with smouldering
eyes and pouting lips, but when the orderly left, she was instantly
herself again, giggling delightedly as she drew Vicky's head down to
whisper in her ear.

"Is he not as beautiful as the dawn?  He studies to be a doctor, and
goes soon to the University at Berlin.  He has fallen in love with me
since last night and as soon as my leg is less painful I shall take him
as a lover."  And when she saw Vicky's startled glance, she went on
hurriedly, "But just for a short time, of course.  Only until I am well
enough to ride back to Gregorius."  When Lij Mikhael came, riding with
his wild horsemen.

They waited outside in the sun while the Prince came into the ward to
take farewell of his daughter.  His sombre mood lightened momentarily
as he embraced Sara, and he saw how well she was recovered.  Then he
told the two women, "Yesterday at noon, the Italian army under General
De Bono crossed the Mareb River in force and has begun to march on A
owa and Ambo Aradam.  The wolf is into the sheepfold.  There has
already been fighting and the Italian aeroplanes are bombing our towns.
We are now at war."

"It is no surprise," said Sara.  "The only surprise is that.

they took so long."

"Miss Camberwell, you must return as swiftly as you can to my father at
the foot of the gorge, and warn him that he must be ready to meet an
enemy attack."  He drew out a gold pocket watch and glanced at it.
"Within the next few minutes, an aircraft will be landing here to take
me to the Emperor.  I would be obliged, Miss Camberwell, if you would
accompany me to the-landing field."  Vicky nodded, and the Lij went on.
"Ras Kullah's men are assembled there.  He has agreed to send fifteen
hundred horsemen to join my father, and they will follow you-" He got
no further, for Sara intervened hotly.

"Miss Camberwell must not be left alone with those hyenas of Kullah's.
They would eat their own mothers."  The Lij smiled and held up a hand.
"My own bodyguard will ride with Miss Camberwell, under my strict
charge to protect her at all times."

"I do not like it," pouted Sara, and groped for Vicky's hand.

"I will be all right, Sara."  She stooped and kissed the girl, who
clung to her for an instant.

will come soon," whispered Sara, "Do nothing until I am with you.
Perhaps it should be Gareth after all," and Vicky chuckled.

"You're getting me confused."

"Yes," agreed Sara.  "That's why I

should be there to advise you."  Mikhael and Vicky stood side by side
on the hull of Miss Wobbly and shaded the sun from their eyes as they
watched the aircraft come in between the peaks.

As a pilot Vicky could appreciate the difficulty of the approach,

down into the bowl of Sardi, where treacherous down-draughts fell along
the cliffs, creating whirlpools of turbulence.  The sun had already
dispelled the chill of the night making the high mountain air even
thinner and more treacherous.

Vicky recognized the aircraft type immediately, for she had trained for
her own pilot's licence on a similar model.

It was a Puss Moth, a small sky-blue high-winged monoplane,

powered by the versatile De Havilland four-cylinder aero engine.  It
would carry a pilot and two passengers in a tricycle arrangement of
seating, the pilot up front in an enclosed cabin under the broad sweep
of the wings.  Seeing the familiar aircraft reminded her, with a
fleeting but bitter pang, of those golden untroubled days before

October 1929, before that black Friday of evil reputation.  Those
idyllic days when she had been the only daughter of a rich man, spoilt
and pampered, plied with such toys as motor cars and speed boats and
aircraft.

All that had been swept away in a single day.  Everything had gone,
even that adoring godlike figure that had been her father dead by his
own hand.  She felt the chill of it still, the sense of terrible loss,
and she turned her thoughts aside and concentrated on the approaching
aircraft.

The pilot came in down the western pass under the cliffs, then turned
steeply and side-slipped in towards the only piece of open ground in
the valley that was free of rocks and oles- It was used as a stockyard,
gymkhana ground or polo field as the need arose and at the moment the
ankle-deep grass was providing grazing for fifty goats.

Ras Kullah's horsemen drove the goats from the field at a gallop,

and then as the Puss Moth touched down, they wheeled and tore down the
field at its wing-tips, firing their rifles into the air and vying with
each other to perform feats of horsemanship.

The pilot taxied to where the car stood and opened the side window.  He
was a burly young white man, with a suntanned face and curly hair.  He
shouted above the engine rumble in an indeterminate colonial accent
Australian, New Zealand or South African, "Are you

Lij Mikhael?"  The Prince shook hands briefly with Vicky before jumping
down.  With his sham ma fluttering wildly in the slipstream from the
propeller, he hurried to the aircraft and climbed into the tiny
cabin.

The pilot was watching Vicky with a lively interest through the side
window and when she caught his eye he pursed his lips and made a circle
with thumb and forefinger in the universal sign of approval.

His grin was so frank and boyishly open that Vicky had to grin back.

"Room for one more!"  he shouted, and she laughed and shouted back,

"Next time, perhaps."

"it will be a pleasure, lady," and he gunned the motor and swung away
lining up on the short rough-surfaced runway.

Vicky watched the Puss Moth climb laboriously up towards the mountain
crests.  As the busy buzzing of its engine faded, a feeling of terrible
aloneness fell over her and she glanced around apprehensively at the
hordes of swarthy horsemen who surrounded the armoured car.  Suddenly
she realized that not one of all these men could speak her language,
and that now there was a small cold cramp of fear at the base of her
belly to go with the aloneness.

Almost desperately, she longed for some contact with the world which
she knew, rather than these savage horsemen in this land of wild
mountains.  For an instant she thought of checking the telegraph office
for a reply to her despatch, but dismissed the idea immediately.  There
was no chance that her editor would yet have received, let alone
replied to her communication.  Now she looked around her and identified
the knot of men and horses that comprised Lij Mikhael's bodyguard, but
they seemed very little different from the greater mass of Gallas.

Little comfort there, and she climbed quickly down into the driver's
hatch of the car and engaged the low gear.

She bumped over the rough ground and found the track that led down
along the river towards the tall grey stone portals of the gorge.  She
was aware of the long untidy column Of Mounted men that followed her
closely, but her t mind leapt ahead to her arrival at the foot of the
gorge, to her reunion with Jake and Gareth.  Suddenly those two were
the most important persons in her whole existence and she longed for
them, both or either of them, with a strength that showed in the white
knuckles of her hands as she gripped the steering-wheel.

The descent of the gorge was a more terrifying experience than the
ascent.  The steeper stretches fell away before Vicky with the
gut-swooping feel of a ski-run, and once the heavy cumbersome car was
committed to it, its own weight took charge and it went down bucking
and skidding.  Even with the brakes locking all four wheels, it kept
plunging downwards, with very little steering control transmitted to
the front wheels.

A little after noon, Vicky had come more than halfway down the gorge,
and she remembered that this final pitch was the truly terrifying part,
where the track clung to the precipice high above the roaring river in
its rocky bed.  Her arms and back were painfully cramped with the
effort of fighting the kicking wheel, and-sweat had drenched the hair
at her temples and stung her eyes.  She wiped it away with her forearm,
and went at the slope, braking hard the moment that the car began
rolling down the thirty-degree incline.

With rock and loose earth kicking and spewing out from under the big
wheels, they descended in a heavy lumbering rush, and halfway down

Vicky realized that she had no control and that the vehicle was
gradually slewing sideways and swinging its tail out towards the edge
of the cliff.

She felt the first lurch as one rear wheel dropped slightly,

riding out over the hundred-foot drop, and instinctively she knew that
in this instant of its headlong career, the car was critically hanging
at the extreme edge of its balance.  In a hundredth of a second, it
would go beyond the point of recovery, and she made without conscious
thought a last instinctive grasp at survival.  She jumped her foot from
the brake pedal, swung the wheel into the line of skid and thrust her
other foot down hard on the throttle.  One wheel hung over the cliff,

the other caught with a vicious jerk as the engine roared at full
power, and the huge steel hull jumped like a startled gazelle, and
hurled itself away from the cliff edge, struck the far bank of earth
and rocky scree and was flung back, miraculously, into its original
line of track.

At the bottom of the pitch, the slope eased.  Vicky fought the car to a
standstill there and dragged herself out of the driver's hatch.

She found that she was shaking uncontrollably, and that she had to get
to a private place off the track, for in reaction she was close to
vomiting and her control of her other bodily functions was shaken by
that terrible sliding, bucking ride.

She had left the column of horsemen far behind, and could only faintly
hear their voices and the clatter of hooves on the rocky track as she
scrambled and clawed her way up the side of the gorge to a thicket of
dwarf cedar trees, where she could be alone.

There was a spring of clear sweet water amongst the cedars and when her
body had purged itself and she had it under control again, she knelt
beside the rocky pool and bathed her face and neck.  Using the surface
of the shining water as a mirror, she combed her hair and rearranged
her clothing.

The reaction to extreme fear had left her feeling lightheaded and
slightly apart from reality.  She picked her way out of the cedar
thicket, and down to where the car stood upon the track.  The Galla
horsemen had arrived and they and their mounts crowded the entire
area,

back up the track for half a mile, and in a solid mob about the
armoured car.

Those nearest the car had dismounted, and when she tried to make her
way through their ranks they gave her only minimal passage, so that she
must brush close to them.

Suddenly she realized with a fresh lunge of fear in her chest that the
Harari bodyguard of Lij Mikhael was no longer with her and she stopped
uncertainly and looked about her, trying to find where they were.

An aching silence had fallen on the Gallas, and now she saw that their
expressions were tense also.  The faces, with their handsome,

high-boned features and beaky noses, turned towards her with the
predatory expectation of the hunting hawk, and the eyes burned with the
same fierce excitement with which they had watched the old crone do her
bloody work the previous night.

The Harari, where were the Harari?  She looked about her wildly now but
could not find a familiar face and then in the silence she heard the
clatter of distant hooves from far down the gorge and she knew without
any shade of doubt that they had left her, they had been driven away by
the threats of their ancient enemies, who outnumbered them so
heavily.

She was alone and she turned to go back, but found that they had closed
about her, cutting off her retreat and now they pressed gradually
closer about her, with the same smouldering, gloating expression on
every face.

She had to go forward, there was no way back and she forced herself to
walk slowly on towards the car.  At each step a tall robed figure stood
to block her way.  She knew she must show no sign of fear,

any show of weakness at all would trigger them, and she had a single
brief image of her own pale body spread-eagled upon the rocky earth,

plaything for a thousand.  She thrust the image firmly aside and walked
on slowly.  At the last possible instant, each tall figure moved
aside,

but there was always another beyond to take its place and each time the
throng pressed closer upon her.

She could feel their heightening expectation, almost smell it in the
hot musk of their packed bodies the change in the faces was there too;
they watched her with a growing excitement, teeth grinning, breath
shortening and eyes like claws in her flesh.

Suddenly she could go no further; a figure taller and more compelling
than any other blocked her path.  She had noticed this, man before.  He
was a Gerazmach, a high Galla officer.  he wore a sharnma of dark blue
silk wrapped about his throat and falling to his knees.

His hair was fluffed out in a wide halo about the lean, cruel face and
a scar ran down from the outer corner of his eye to the point of his
jaw.

He said something to her in a voice that was thick with lust, and she
did not understand the words but the meaning was clear.  The crowd
around her stirred and she heard the sound of their breathing and felt
them press even closer towards her.  A man laughed near her, and there
was something so ugly in the sound that it struck her like a physical
force.

She wanted to scream, to turn and try and claw herself free but she
knew that was what they were waiting for.  It needed just that
provocation and they would hurl themselves upon her.  She gathered what
was left of her reserves and put it all into her voice.

"Get out of my way," she said clearly, and the man before her smiled.
It was one of the most terrifying things she had ever seen.

Still smiling, he dropped one hand to his groin, opened the fold of his
shamnia, and made a gesture so obscene that Vicky recoiled, and she
felt the scalding blood burn her throat and her cheeks.  There was no
control in her voice now as she blurted, "Oh, you swine you filthy
swine," and the man reached for her, his robe still open.  As she
shrank back, she felt the others behind her thrust her forward again.

Then another voice spoke.  The words were banal but the tone hissed
like the sound of a scimitar swung at the cut.

"All right, chaps.  That's enough of that nonsense."  Vicky felt the
pressure of bodies about her ease, and she spun around with a sob
catching in her throat.

Gareth Swales strolled down the passage that opened for him through the
dense press of robed bodies.  His whole carriage seemed indolent, and
the white open-necked shirt with an Zingari scarf at the throat was
crisp and immaculate but Vicky had never before seen the expression he
wore.  The rims of his nostrils were ice-white and his eyes burned with
a controlled fury.

She would have flung herself at him, sobbing with relief, but his voice
crackled again.

"Steady.  We're not out yet," and she caught herself, lifted her chin
and smothered the next sob before it escaped.

"Good girl," he said, without taking his eyes from the face of the tall
Galla in the blue robe, and he kept on walking steadily towards him,
taking Vicky's arm as he drew level with her.  She felt the strength of
his fingers through the thin stuff of her blouse, and it seemed to flow
into her, charging her depleted reserves, and the jelly weakness in her
legs firmed.

The Galla leader stood his ground as Gareth stepped up to him, and for
a space of time that was less than five seconds but seemed to Vicky
like a round of eternity, the two men locked gazes and wills.  Blazing
blue eyes levelled with smouldering black then suddenly the Galla
broke, he glanced aside and shrugged, chuckled weakly, and turned away
to talk loudly with the man who stood beside him.

Unhurriedly, Gareth stepped through the gap the man had left and they
were at the car.

"Are you well enough to drive?"  Gareth asked quietly, as he swung her
up on the sponson and she nodded.

"The engine's switched off," she blurted; they could not risk cranking
to start.

"She's on the slope," said Gareth, turning to face the crowding

Gallas and hold them off with his level gaze.  "Roll her to a start."

As Vicky scrambled into the driver's hatch, Gareth placed a cheroot
between his lips, and struck a match with his thumb nail.  The little
act distracted the hostile pack for an Instant, and they watched his
hands as he lit the cheroot and blew a long blue feather of smoke
towards them.

Behind him, the car began to roll, and Gareth swung himself aboard
easily with the cheroot clamped between his teeth and gave the horsemen
a mocking salute as the car gathered speed down the slope.  Neither of
them spoke as they dropped swiftly downwards, two miles in silence.

Then, without taking her eyes off the track ahead, Vicky told

Gareth as he stood above and behind her in the turret, "You weren't
even afraid-2

"In a blue funk, old girl absolute blue funk."

"And I once called you a coward."

"Quite right too."

"How did you get there so fast?"

"I was up there looking for defensive positions against the jolly old
Eyeties.  Saw your faithful bodyguard taking off and came to have a
look."  The track ahead of Vicky dissolved in a mist of tears,

and she had to hit the brakes hard.  Afterwards, she was not sure quite
how it happened but she found herself in Gareth's arms, pressing
herself to him with all of her strength and shaking violently with her
sobs.

"Oh God, Gareth, I don't know what I'll ever do to repay you for
this."

"I'm sure we will think of something," he murmured, holding her with a
practised embrace that was lulling and so wonderfully secure.

She felt then that she did not want ever to leave his arms and she
lifted her lips to his and with a mild amazement saw on his face, in
the usually mocking blue eyes, such an expression of tenderness as she
had never expected was possible.

His lips were another surprise, they were very warm and soft and tasted
of man and the bitter aromatic smoke of his cheroots; she had never
realized that he was so tall and his body so hard, or his hands so
strong.  The last sob wracked her body, and then she sighed
voluptuously and shuddered softly with the strength of physical
awakening more intense than she had ever experienced in her entire
life.

For a moment, the journalist in her attempted to analyse the source of
this sudden passion, and she knew it as the product of the previous
night's sleepless horrors, of fatigue and of the day's terrors.  Then
she no longer queried it, but let it spread through her whole body. The
encampment of the Ras's army at the foot of the Sardi

Gorge sprawled for four miles amongst the acacia forests, a vast
agglomeration of living things which murmured softly with life, like a
hive of honeybees at midday, and which had already cloaked itself in
blue woodsmoke and the myriad odours of human and animal ingestion and
excretion.

The camp site that Gareth and Jake had chosen was set apart from the
main body, in a denser, shadier patch of acacia, below a tall rocky
waterfall where the Sardi River fell the last steep pitch to the plain
and formed a dark restless pool in which Vicky could bathe away the
filth from her body and from her mind.

It was almost dark when she climbed back to the camp with her wet hair
bound in a towel, carrying her wash bag.

Gareth was seated upon a log beside the smouldering camp fire.  He was
watching the steaks of a freshly butchered ox grilling on the coals,
and he made room for her on the log beside him and offer'd her

Scotch whisky and lukewarm water in a tin mug, which she accepted
gratefully and which tasted as good as anything she had ever drunk.

In silence they sat together, almost but not quite touching, and
watched the swift coming of the African night.

They were alone, and the faint voices from the main encampment below.
them seemed only to emphasize this aloneness.

Jake, the old Ras and Gregorius had taken out two of the armoured cars
and a camel patrol on a reconnaissance back towards the Wells of

Chaldi.  In the same exercise, Jake was to train the new gunners in the
use of the Vickers machine guns.  Gareth, as the military expert, had
been left to survey the gorge and to judge the ground for defence in
the event of a forced retreat up the gorge under Italian pressure.

He had been doing this when he had come across Vicky and the Galla
horsemen.

Sitting now beside the fire, under a sky that was suddenly very black
and half obscured by the mountains that towered over them, Vicky was
aware of a feeling of complete acceptance, an Arabic kismet of the
spirit, as though fate had arranged this moment and the effort of
avoiding it was too great.

They were alone, and that was how it was meant to be.

The deep physical arousal and feeling of utter commitment that she had
experienced earlier, on their escape from the threatening horde of

Gallas, still lingered still filled her body and her conscious mind
with an ethereal glow.

She ate a little of the grilled meat, hardly tasting it, not looking at
the man beside her, but staring dreamily at the brilliant diamond-white
sparkle of the stars above the dark peaks, yet fully and electrically
aware of him of the nearness of him, so close that although they were
still not touching she could feel the warmth emanating from his body
upon her arm like the caress of a desert wind.

She could almost feel his eyes as he watched her quietly.  His gaze was
so compelling that at last she could no longer pretend not to be aware
of it, and she turned her head and met his eyes steadily.

The ruddy glow of the coals enhanced the clean regular lanes of his
face, and gilded the red gold of his hair.  In that moment, she
believed he was the most beautiful human being she had ever seen and it
required an effort to tear her eyes away from him.

As she stood up and walked away she felt her heart hammering within her
chest, like a wild -animal trying to escape its cage, and she heard the
roar of blood in her own ears.

The interior of her tent was lit softly by the firelight through the
canvas, and she did not light the lamp, but undressed slowly in the
semi-darkness and dropped her clothing carelessly across the folding
chair beside the entrance.  Then she lay down upon the narrow cot, and
the woollen blanket was rough against the naked skin of her buttocks
and back.  Each breath was an effort now, and she lay rigidly with her
hands clenched at her sides almost afraid, almost exultant, her head
propped on the single pillow and staring down at her body, aware of it
as never before.  Watching, with a sense of wonder, how each breath
changed the shape of her heavily rounded breasts and how the nipples
firmed slowly and thrust out, darkening perceptibly until they were so
tight and hard that they pained her exquisitely.

She heard the crunch of his footsteps approach the tent, and her
breathing jammed, and she thought with a small shock that she might
suffocate and die.  Then the flap of the tent swung open, and he
stooped through and stood tall, letting the flap fall closed behind
him.

Instinctively she covered herself, one arm folding across her chest and
the other hand spreading protective fingers over the mound of fine
fluff at the base of her belly.

He stood silently, outlined against the fire glow on the canvas,

and she began to breathe again, quick and shallow.

It seemed that he stood there for ever, silent and watchful, and she
felt the skin of her arms and thighs prickle with goose-flesh at the
slow steady scrutiny.  Then he unbuttoned his shirt and let it slide to
the earth.  The fire glow flickered on his finely muscled arms, they
rippled with a red gold sheen, like wet marble, as he moved.

He came at last to her bed and stood over her, and she wondered that
the body of a man could be so slim and supple, with such lovely line
and balance then she remembered how she had once stood before the
statue of Michelangelo's David with just the same depth of awe.

She lifted the hands that covered her own body, reached up like a
supplicant, and drew him down upon herself.

She woke once during the night, and the fire had died away outside the
tent, but a bright white moon had sailed up over the mountains and it
glowed now with a silvery light through the canvas above them,

striking down directly upon them.

The strange white light divested Gareth's sleeping face of all colour.
It was pale now, like that of a statue or of a corpse and

Vicky experienced a sudden revulsion of feeling.  There was a small
dull weight at the back of her mind.  When she examined it closely, she
found that it was guilt and she experienced a mild anger at a society
that had burdened her with that guilt.  That she could not enjoy a man,
that her body could not be used as nature had intended without this
backlash of emotion.

She raised herself on one elbow, careful not to disturb the man beside
her, and she studied his face pondering this new sense of guilt, and
exploring her feelings for him.

Slowly she realized that the two were bound inextricably together.

There was no real depth to her feelings for Gareth Swales, she had been
carried along on a treacherous tide of fatigue and reaction from fear
and horror.  The guilt she had experienced was a consequence of this
lack of substance, and she felt suddenly confused and sad.

She lay back beside the long fine length of his body, but now she had
moved slightly, so that they no longer touched.

She knew that after love, all animals are sad, but she thought that
there was more to her feelings than that.

Suddenly, without really knowing why, she thought of Jake Barton and
the depth and cold of her sadness deepened.  It was long before she
slept again, but then she slept late and the morning sunlight was
striking through the canvas and outside there was the sound of engines
and many voices.

She sat up hurriedly, still half asleep, clutching the rough blanket to
her breast, confused and owl-eyed, to discover that she was alone upon
the cot and all that remained of the night was the indentation and
warmth of Gareth's body upon the blanket beside her,

and the swollen aching feeling deep within her where he had been.

Then Vicky threw on her clothes hurriedly and, still tying her hair,
went out into the sunlight, she was just in time to witness the arrival
of a sorry procession.

In the lead was Jake's car, Priscilla the Pig.  No longer glossy white
and blazoned with the insignia of the International Red Cross,

it was painted instead a sandy tan colour with patches of darker
camouflage in an earthy brown to break up the outline of the big
angular hull and turret.

The thick barrel of -a Vickers machine gun protruded belligerently from
the mounting.

Above the turret fluttered the tri coloured green, yellow and red
pennant of Ethiopia and below that the dark blue field and golden lion
of the Ras's household standard and everything was covered with a thick
coating of fine red dust.

Close behind the Pig, and attached to her by a stout towline, came

Tenastelin - Gregorius's car similarly daubed with dull camouflage
paint and flying the standards of Ethiopia and Ras, and with her gun
ports filled with lethal hardware.  However, despite the warlike
trappings, the machine had an air of dejection as it was dragged
ignobly into the camp and from its rear end came a frightful grinding
clatter that brought Gareth Swales hurrying half-dressed from his tent,
with an angry question to shout as Jake's head appeared in the driver's
hatch.

"What the hell happened?"  and Jake's face was red and scowling with
outrage.

"That old,--and at a loss for a suitable expletive, he indicated with a
jerk of his thumb the Ras, who sat proudly in the turret of the
crippled car, showing no remorse whatsoever, but beaming fondly and
toothlessly on Gareth.

"Not content with firing off a thousand rounds of Vickers ammunition,
he kicked Gregorius out of the driver's seat and gave us a
demonstration that would have looked good at Indianapolis!"

"Oh my

God!"  groaned Gareth.

"How do you do?"  shouted the Ras cheerfully, .  acknowledging the
applause.

"Why didn't you stop him?  "demanded Gareth.

"Stop him!  Jesus, have you ever tried to stop a charging rhinoceros! I
chased him halfway to the coast before I caught him-"

"What's the damage?"

"He's stripped the gearbox, and burned out the clutch he may have
thrown a con rod but I haven't gotten up enough courage to look yet."
Jake climbed wearily from the driver's hatch,

raising his dust goggles.  Red dust had sifted into the thick mop of
his curls and clung in the stubble of his beard, and the protected skin
around his eyes was pale and naked-looking, giving him an innocent
wide-eyed expression.  He began beating the dust out of his trousers
and shirt, still berating the happily grinning Ras.

"The old bastard is as happy as a pig in a mud wallow.

Look at his face.  Reconnaissance in force!  It was more like a bloody
circus."  At that moment, Jake noticed Vicky for the first time,

and the scowl disappeared miraculously, to be replaced by an expression
of such transparent delight that she felt her guilt return swiftly and
deeply, so that it gave her a cold sick feeling in the pit of her
stomach.

"Vicky!"  Jake called.  "God, I was worried about you!"  Vicky was able
to purge a little of the feeling of guilt by busying herself at the
cooking fire, in a fine show of domesticity, and she served the men
with griddle cakes and grilled steaks.  the last of the potatoes they
had brought with them and a pan full of the pigeon-sized eggs laid by
the scrawny native fowls.  The camp table was set out under the
acacias, in the dappled early-morning sunlight, and as Vicky worked at
the fire, Jake reported the results of the reconnaissance.

" once the Ras had tired of firing the Vickers, shooting up every tree
and rock we passed, and we were just about out of ammunition, we were
able to circle out northwards, keeping the speed down to avoid dust,
and we found a good piece of ground from which to observe the road from
Massawa to the Wells.  There was a bit of traffic,

transports mostly with motorized escort, but we couldn't stay too long
as the Ras, God bless his friendly little soul, wanted to continue his
target practice on them.  We had a job stopping him.  So I pulled back
and we came in towards the Wells from the west again.  "Jake paused to
sip at the mug of coffee, and Gareth turned to Vicky as she squatted,

rosy-faced, over the cooking fire.  my dear?"  he said.  It was "How's
breakfast coming along, not the words nor the endearment, but rather
the proprietorial tone, that made Jake glance sharply at Vicky.  The
tone Gareth had used was that which a man uses to his own woman.  For a
second, Vicky held Jake's glance, and then she turned busily back to
her cooking, and Jake dropped his eyes thoughtfully at the steaming mug
in his hands.

"How close did you get?"  Gareth asked easily.  He had noticed the
silent exchange between Vicky and Jake and he was relaxed and
contented, lolling back in the camp chair and rolling a cheroot between
his fingers.

"I left the cars in the broken ground, and went in on foot.

Didn't want to take the Ras too close.  I was able to watch the

Eyetie position for a couple of hours.  They have dug in well, and I

saw gun positions with a good field of fire placed along the ridge.

They are in a hell of a defensive position and it would be crazy to
attack them there.  We will have to wait for them to come to us." Vicky
brought the food to them, and as she leaned across Gareth he touched
her bare upper arm in a casual caress.

She drew back quickly and went to fetch the pan of eggs.

Jake had noticed the gesture, yet his voice was even and unruffled as
he went on, "I wanted to circle out and to figure the chances of
attacking their positions from the rear, but that was when the old Ras
got bored and gave us a demonstration of hell-driving.  My God, I'm
hungry."  Jake filled his mouth with food, and then asked in a muffled
voice, "How did you get on, Gary?"

"There is good defensive ground in the gorge.  I have the construction
gangs digging positions in the slopes.  We should be able to give a
good account, if the Eyeties try to force their way through."

"Well, we have got scouts watching them.

Gregorius picked a hundred of his best men for the job.  We will know
as soon as they begin to move from the Wells, but I would like to know
how much time we have before they move.

Every day will give us more time to prepare, to decide on our tactics,
and train the Harari teach them how to fight with modern weapons.-"
Vicky came back to the camp table and sat down.

"You haven't got time," she said.  "No time at all."

"What does that mean?  "Jake looked up.

"The Italians crossed the Mareb yesterday at noon.  They crossed in
force, and they have begun bombing the towns and the roads.  It's war
now.  It's begun."  Jake whistled softly.

"Hey ho!  Here we go!"  he said, and then turned to Gareth.  "You'd
best be the one who tells the Ras.  You are the only one who can
control him."

"I'm touched by your faith," murmured Gareth mildly.

"I have a pretty good idea what the Ras's reaction will be.

He'll want to rush straight out there and start throwing punches.

He's likely to get his whole tribe wiped out.  You've got to calm him
down."

"How do you suggest I do that?  give him a shot of morphine or hit him
over the head?"

"Get him into a gin-rummy game," suggested Jake maliciously.  He
scooped the last of the egg into his mouth and stood up from the table
still chewing.  "Good chow, Vicky but I reckon I'd better have a look
at the damage the Ras did to Tenastelin.  See if we can get her running
again for the Eyeties to shoot at."  For two hours,

Jake worked alone on Tenastelin, rigging the block and tackle from one
of the main branches of the big acacia tree and loosening the bolts to
lift out the entire gearbox.  Twenty yards away, Vicky sat at the table
in front of her tent, and hammered out her next despatch on the little
portable typewriter.  Both of them were very much aware of each other
as they worked, but their behaviour was elaborately unconcerned and
they each made a show of concentrating all their attention on their
separate tasks.

At last, Jake strained on the tackle and the dismembered gearbox lifted
jerkily off its seating and swayed, dripping grease from the acacia
branch.  Jake stood back and wiped his hands on a lump of cotton waste
soaked in gasoline.

"Coffee break," he said, and went to the fire.  He poured two mugs full
of black coffee and took them to where Vicky sat.

"How are you doing?"  he asked, glancing at the page in her typewriter.
"Pulitzer stuff, is it?"  Vicky laughed, as she accepted the mug of
coffee.  "Prizes never go to the best man."

"Or to those who really want them," agreed Jake, sitting down opposite
her, and she felt a flare of annoyance that he had turned the
conversation so neatly.

"Damn you, Jake Barton.  I don't have to answer to you or to anybody,"
she said softly.

"Right," he said.  "Quite right.  You're a big girl now but just
remember that you're playing with the big boys.  And some of them play
very rough."

"Is there any charge, counsellor?"  She looked up at him defiantly, and
then she saw the look in his eyes and the anger shrivelled within
her.

"I don't want to fight with you, Vicky," he said softly.

"That's the last thing in the world I want to do."  He swallowed the
last of his coffee.  "Well," he said, "back to work.

"You give up easily, don't you?"  Vicky didn't realize she had spoken
until the words were out, and then she wanted them back but

Jake cocked an eye, at her, and he grinned that big boyish grin of
his.

"Giving up?"  Now he laughed aloud.  "Oh, lady!  If you believe that
then you do me wrong, - a grave injustice."  And he moved slowly
towards where she sat and stood over her.

The laughter faded from his voice and from his eyes as he spoke in a
new husky tone.

"You really are very lovely."

"Jake."  She held his eyes.  "I wish

I could explain but I just don't understand myself" He touched her
cheek and stooped down to her.  "No, Jake, please don't-" she said and
made no effort to avoid his lips, but before they touched hers, there
was the -urgent sound of galloping hooves, coming up through the
forest.

The two of them drew slowly apart, still watching each other's eyes and
Gregorius Maryarn rode into the camp on a shaggy little mountain
pony.

"Jake," he called, sliding down off the saddle.  "It's war!  It's
begun!  The Italians have crossed the Mareb.  Gareth has just told my
grandfather."

"The timely messenger," murmured Vicky, but her voice was a little
shaky, and her smile lopsided.

"I've come to help you fix my car, Jake.  We must be ready to fight,"
called Gregorius, and tossed his reins to the servant who followed him.
"Let's get to work.  There is little time my grandfather has called all
his commanders to a war council at noon.  He wants you there."
Gregorius turned away and hurried to the gutted hulk of

Tenastelin.  For a moment longer Jake stood over Vicky, and then he
shrugged with resignation.

Just remember," he threatened her mildly, "I don't give up, and he
followed Gregorius.

An hour later they had stripped the gearbox and spread its component
parts on a sheet of clean canvas.  Jake rocked back on his heels.

"Well, grand pappy has cooked his goose," he said, and Gregorius
apologized solemnly.

"He is a very impetuous gentleman, my grandfather."

"It's getting on towards noon."  Jake stood up.  "Let's go down and
hear what next he has in store for us, that impetuous gentleman."  The
Ras's encampment was set a little apart from the main body of his army,
and housed only his personal entourage.  There were at least two acres
of hastily erected tukuLs, made of sapling frames covered with a range
of material from thatch to flattened paraffin cans.  Through this
encampment wandered the naked snotty-nosed children and the Ras's
multitudinous female retainers, together with goats, mangy dogs,
donkeys, and camels.

The Ras's tent was set up in the centre of this community.  It was a
large marquee, patched so often that little of the original canvas was
visible.  His bodyguard was grouped protectively at the entrance.

Beyond the Ras's tent was a large area of open sandy ground,

almost completely covered by rank upon rank of patiently squatting
warriors.

"My God," exclaimed Jake.  "Everyone gets to the war council."

"It's the custom," explained Gregorius.  "All may attend, but only the
commanders may speak."  To one side, separated from the Harari troops
by a small space of beaten earth and centuries of rankling hostility,
were the Galla contingent, and Vicky pointed them out to Jake.

"Pretty bunch," he murmured.  "With allies like that, who needs
enemies?"  Gregorius led them directly to the Ras's tent, and the
guards stood aside for them to enter.  The interior was dark and hot,
redolent with the smell of the rank native tobacco and spiced food.  At
the far end of the tent, a knot of silent men squatted in a tense
circle about two figures the Ras, swathed in dark woollen robes, and
Gareth Swales in a light silk shirt and white flannels.

For a moment Jake thought that the two central figures were deeply
immersed in planning the strategy and defence of the Sardi Gorge then
he saw the neat piles of paste, board spread out on the golden

Afghanistan rug between them.

"My God," said Jake.  "He took me at my word."  Gareth looked up from
the fan of cards he held in his right hand.

"Thank God."  His face showed obvious relief.  "I only wish it had been
an hour earlier."

"What's the trouble."

"This old bastard is cheating," said Gareth, with barely suppressed
outrage quivering in his voice.  "He has caught me for almost two
hundred quid this morning.

I'm utterly appalled, I must say.  They obviously have no scruples,

these people-" and here Gareth glanced at Gregorius, no offence
meant,

of course.  But I must admit I am staggered."  And the Ras nodded and
grinned happily, his eyes sparkling with triumph, as he waved Jake
and

Vicky to a seat on a pile of cushions beside him.

"If he's cheating don't play with him," suggested Vicky, and

Gareth looked pained.

"You don't understand, old girl.  I haven't been able to figure how
he's doing it.  He's invented a method new to science and the gambling
halls of the world.  He might be an absolutely unscrupulous old rogue,
but he must be some sort of genius as well.  I've just got to keep on
playing with him until I work out his system."  Gareth's doleful
expression became radiant.  "My God, when I do Monte Carlo here I
came!"  He discarded a six of spades.  The Ras leapt upon it with a
cackle of triumph and began laying out his hand.

"Oh my God," groaned Gareth.  "He's done it again."  The tense group of
counsellors and elders around the game exploded in a delighted burst of
cheers and felicitations, and the Ras acknowledged their
congratulations like a victorious prizefighter.  Grinning and snuffling
he leaned across the rug and with a loud cry of "How do you do!"  he
punched Gareth's arm playfully, and Gareth winced and massaged the limb
tenderly.

"He does that every time he wins.  He's got a touch like a demented
blacksmith I'm black and blue."

"How do you do!"  cried the \ Ras again, louder than before, and he
shaped up to punch once more, but

Gareth hastily produced his purse, and the Ras relaxed.

"He keeps punching until I pay."  Gareth counted out the coins,

while the Ras and his followers watched in heavy-breathing
concentration, which only broke into smiles and laughter again when the
pile of coins in front of Gareth reached the stipulated amount.  "No
credit in this game," Gareth explained, as he shoved the money
across.

"Cash on the nail, or you get your arm broken.  This old bastard Gareth
glanced again at Gregorius, I no offence, of course.

But this old bastard wouldn't trust his own mother, probably with good
reason.  I'm absolutely appalled!  I've met some shockers in my time
but this chap takes the biscuit."  There was a deep respect in

Gareth's tone, which changed to mild alarm as the Ras gathered the
cards preparatory to the next deal, and he turned to Gregorius.

"Please explain to your dear grandfather that, though I'd be delighted
to accommodate him at a future date, I do think he should now
concentrate a little of his skills on confounding the common enemy.

The armies of Italy are waiting.  Reluctantly, the Ras laid the cards
aside and, with a sharp speech in Amharic, put the war council into
session, then immediately turned to Jake Barton.

"My grandfather wishes to know the state of his armoured squadron.

He is impressed with the cars, and is certain that they can be used to
great advantage."

"Tell him that he has wrecked a quarter of his armoured squadron. We've
got three runners left."  The Ras showed no remorse at this rebuke, but
turned to his commanders and launched into a long vivid account of his
exploits as a driver, his wide gestures describing the speed and dash
of his evolutions.  The account was punctuated by loyal exclamations of
wonder from his officers, and it was some minutes before he turned back
to Jake.

"My grandfather says that three of these wonderful machines will be
enough to send the Italians running back into the sea."

"I wish I

shared his confidence," remarked Gareth, and Jake went on, "There is
one other small problem, we are short of crews drivers and gunners for
the cars.  We'll need a week or two to train your men."  The Ras
interrupted fiercely, almost as though he had understood Jake, and
there was a fierce murmur of agreement from his commanders.

"My grandfather intends to attack the Italian positions at the

Wells of Chaldi.  He intends to attack immediately."  Jake glanced at

Gareth, who rolled his eyes to the heavens.  "Give him the word, old
son," he said, but Jake shook his head.

"It'll come better from you."  Gareth drew a deep breath and launched
into a long explanation as to the suicidal futility of a frontal
attack, even with armoured support, against guns dug into a commanding
position.

"The Italians must advance.  That is when our chance will come."

It took all Gareth's eloquence to make the Ras agree, albeit
reluctantly, to wait for the enemy to make the first move, to watch
with his forward scouts for the moment when the Italians left their
fortified positions above the Wells and moved out into the open
grassland where they would be more vulnerable.

Once the Ras had agreed, scowling and muttering, to cool his ardour
that long, then Jake could take over from Gareth and suggest the
tactics that might best be employed.

"Please tell your grandfather that we come back to my original warning
we do not have crews for all three cars."

"I can drive,"

interrupted Vicky Camberwell, suddenly aware that she was being
squeezed out of consideration.

Gareth and Jake exchanged glances again, and were both instantly in
complete agreement, but it was Gareth who spoke for them.

"It's one thing acting as a ferry driver, and another as a combatant,
my dear.  You are here to write about the fighting, not get mixed up in
it."  Vicky flashed a scornful glance at him and turned to

Jake.

Jake she began.

"Gareth's right."  He cut her short.  "I agree with that all the way."
Vicky subsided angrily, knowing there was no profit in arguing now not
accepting their lordly decrees, but willing to bide her time.

She listened quietly as the discussion flowed back and forth.  Jake
explained how the cars should be used to shock the enemy and punch open
the Italian de fences so that the Ethiopian cavalry could stream
through and exploit the disordered infantry.

The Ras's scowls smoothed away, and an unholy grin replaced them.

His eyes glowed like black coals in their beds of dark wrinkled
flesh,

and when at last he gave his orders, he spoke with the ringing and
final authority of a royal warrior that brooked no further argument.

"My grandfather decrees that the first attack will be made upon the
enemy as soon as they advance beyond the caves of Chaldi.  It will be
made by all the horsemen of both Harari and Galla, and led by two
armoured cars.  The infantry, the Vickers guns and one armoured car
will be held in reserve here at the Sardi Gorge."

"What about the crews for the cars?"  asked Jake.

"You and I, Jake, in one car, and in the other car Major

Swales will be the driver and my grandfather will be the gunner."

"I

can't believe it's happening to me," groaned Gareth.

"That old bastard is stark raving bloody mad.  He's a menace to himself
and everyone within a fifty-mile range."

"Including the

Italians," agreed Jake.

"It's all very well for you to grin like that you won't be locked up in
a tin can with a maniac.  Gregorius, tell him-"

"No, Major

Swales."  Gregorius shook his head, and his expression was remote and
frosty.  "My grandfather has given his orders.  I will not translate
your objections though if you insist I will give him an exact
translation of what you have just said about him."

"My dear chap."

Gareth held up his hands in a gesture of capitulation.  "I count it an
honour to be selected by your grandfather and my remarks were made in
fun, I assure you.  No offence, old chap, no offence at all."  And he
watched helplessly, as the Ras picked up the pack of playing cards and
began to deal the next hand.

"I just hope the jolly old Eyeties get a move on.  I can't afford much
more of this."  Major Luigi Castelani saluted from the entrance of the
tent.

"As you ordered, my Colonel."  Count Aldo Belli nodded to him in the
full-length mirror a brief acknowledgement before he switched his
attention back to his own image.

"Gino," he snapped.  "Is that a mark on the toecap of my left boot?"
and the little sergeant dropped to his knees at the Count's feet and
breathed heavily on the boot, dulling the glossy surface before
polishing it lovingly with his own sleeve.  The Count glanced up and
saw that Castelani still lingered in the entrance.  His expression was
so lugubrious and doom-laden that the Count felt his anger return.

"Your face is enough to sour the wine, Castelani."

"The Count knows my misgivings."

"Indeed," he thundered.  "I have heard nothing but your whines since I
gave my orders to advance."

"May I point out once more that those orders are in direct-"

"You may not.  11 Duce,

Benito Mussolini himself, has placed a sacred trust upon me.  I will
not fail that trust."

"My Colonel, the enemy-"

"Bah!"  Scorn flashed from the dark, heavily fringed eyes.

"Bah, I say.  Enemy, you say savages, I say.  Soldiers, you say rabble,
say U "As my Colonel wishes, but the armoured vehicle-"

"No!

Castelani, no!  It was not an armoured vehicle, but an ambulance."
The

Count had truly convinced himself of this.  "I will not let this moment
of destiny slip through my fingers.  I refuse to creep about like a
frightened old woman.

It is not in my nature, Castelani, I am a man of action of direct
action.  It is in my nature to spring like a leopard at the jugular
vein of my enemy.  The time of talking is over now, Castelani.

The time for action is upon us."

"As my Colonel wishes."

"It is not what I wish, Castelani.  It is what the gods of war decree,
and what I as a warrior must obey."  There did not seem a reply to this
and the

Major stood silently aside as the Count swept out of the tent, with
chin upheld, and with a firm, deliberate tread.

astelani's strike force had been ready since dawn.

Fifty of the heavy troop transporters made up a single column, and he
had spent most of the night deliberating on the order of march.

His final disposition was to leave a full company in the fortified
position above the Wells of Chaldi, under the command of one of the

Count's young captains.  All other troops had been included in the
flying column which was to drive hard on the gorge, seize the
approaches and fight its way up to the highlands.

In the van, Castelani had placed five truckloads of riflemen, and
immediately behind them were the machinegun sections, which he knew he
could bring into action within minutes.  Another twenty truck-loads of
infantry followed them ten in the extreme rear.  Under his eye and
hand, he had placed his field artillery.

In the event of the column running into real trouble, he was relying on
the infantry to buy him the precious time needed to unlimber and range
his Howitzers.  Under their protective muzzles, he was mildly confident
that he could extricate the column from any predicament into which the
Count's newfound courage and vaunting visions of glory might lead them
mildly, but not entirely, confident.

Beside each stationary truck the driver and crew were sprawling on the
sandy earth, bareheaded, tunics unbuttoned and cigarettes lit.

Castelani threw back his head, inflated his lungs and let out a bellow
that seemed to echo against the clear high desert sky.

"Fall in!"  and the sprawling figures scrambled into frenzied activity,
grabbing weapons and adjusting uniforms as they formed ragged ranks
beside each truck.

"My children," said Aldo Belli, as he began to pace down the line.

"My brave boys," and he looked at them, not really seeing the
mis-buttoned tunics, the stubble on their chins, nor the hastily
pinched-out cigarettes behind the ears.  His vision was misted with
sentiment, his imagination dressed them in burnished breastplates and
horsetail plumes.

"You are thirsty for blood?"  the Colonel asked, and threw back his
head and laughed a reckless carefree laugh.  "I will give you buckets
of it," he said.  "Today you will drink your fill.  The men within
earshot shuffled their feet and glanced uneasily at each other.  There
was a definite preference for Chianti amongst them.

The Count stopped before a thin rifleman, still in his teens, with a
dark shaggy mop of hair hanging out from under his helmet.

"Bambino," said the Count, and the youth hung his head and grinned in
sickly embarrassment.  "We will make a warrior out of you today,"

and he embraced the boy, then held him off at arm's length and studied
his face.  "Italy gives of her finest, none are too young or too noble
to be spared sacrifice on the altar of war."  The boy's ingratiating
grin changed swiftly to real alarm.  -Sing, bambino, sing!"  cried the
Count, and himself opened "La

Giovinezza" in his soaring baritone while the youth quavered
uncertainly below him.  The Count marched on, singing, and reached the
head of the column as the song ended.  He nodded to Castelani, too
breathless to speak, and the Major let out another bull bellow.

"Mount up!"  The formations of black-shirted troopers broke up into
confused activity as they hurried to the cumbersome trucks and climbed
aboard.

The Rolls-Royce stood in pride of place at the head of the column,

Giuseppe sitting ready at the wheel with Gino beside him, his camera at
the ready.

The engine was purring, the wide back seat packed with the Count's
personal gear sports rifle, shotgun, travelling rugs, picnic hamper,

straw wine carrier, binoculars, and ceremonial cloak.

The Count mounted with dignity and settled himself on the padded
leather.  He looked at Castelani.

"Remember, Major, the essence of my strategy is speed and surprise. The
lightning blow, swift and merciless, delivered by the steel hand at the
enemy's heart."  Sitting beside the driver in the rear truck of the
column, eating the dust of the forty-nine trucks ahead,

and already beginning to sweat freely in the oven heat of the steel
cab, Major Castelani inspected his watch.

"Mother of God," he growled.  "It's past eleven o'clock.

We will have to move fast if we At that moment, the driver swore and
braked heavily, and before the truck had come to a halt, Castelani had
leapt out on to the running board and climbed high on to the roof of
the cab.

"What is it?"he shouted to the driver ahead.

"I do not know, Major," the man shouted back.

Ahead of them the entire column had come to a halt, and Castelani
braced himself for the sound of firing certain that they had run into
an ambush.  There was confused shouting of question and comment from
the drivers and crews of the stranded convoy, as they climbed down and
peered ahead.

Castelani focused his binoculars, and at that moment the sound of
gunfire carried clearly across the desert spaces, and the swift order
to deploy his field guns was on Castelani's lips as he found the

Rolls-Royce in the lens of his binoculars.

The big automobile was out on the left flank, racing through the
scrubby grass, and in the back seat the count was braced with a shotgun
levelled over the driver's head.

Even as Castelani watched, a flock of plump brown francolin burst from
the grass ahead of the speeding Rolls, rising steeply on quick wide
wings.  Long blue streamers of gunsmoke flew from the muzzles of the
shotgun, and two of the birds exploded in puffs of soft brown feathers,
while the survivors of the flock scattered away, and the

Rolls came to a halt in a skidding cloud of dust.

Castelani watched Gino, the little Sergeant, jump from the Rolls and
run to pick up the dead birds and carry them to the Count.

Torco Dio!"  thundered the Major, as he watched the Count pose for the
camera, still standing in the rear of the Rolls, holding the dangling
feathered brown bodies and smiling proudly into the lens.

There was a rising feeling of despondency and alarm in the Ras's army.
Since the middle of the morning, through a day of scalding heat and
unrelenting boredom, they had waited.

The scouts had reported the first forward movement of the Italian force
at ten o'clock that morning, and immediately the Ras's forces had moved
forward into their carefully prepared positions.

Gareth Swales had spent days selecting the best possible ground in
which to meet the first Italian thrust, and each contingent of the
wild

Ethiopian cavalry had been carefully drilled and properly cautioned as
to the sequence of ambush and the necessity of maintaining strict
discipline.

The chosen field was situated between the horns of the mountains,

in the mouth of the funnel formed by the debouchment of the Sardi

Gorge.  It was obvious that this was the only approach route open to
the Italians, and it was nearly twelve miles wide.

The attackers must be led in close to the southern horn of the funnel,
where the Vickers machine guns had been sited on the rocky slopes, and
where a minor water course had chiselled its way down to the plain. The
water course was dry now, and it meandered out into the plain for five
miles before vanishing, but it was deep and wide enough to conceal the
large contingents of Harari and Galla horsemen.

This mass of cavalry had been waiting all day, squatting beside their
mounts in the sugar-white sand of the river bed.

The two separate factions had been diplomatically separated.  The

Harari were placed at the head of the trap, nearest the rocky slope of
the mountain with the Vickers gunners hidden on their flank in strong
posts amongst the rocks.

The Galla, under the scar-faced Gerazmach in the blue sham ma were
grouped farther out on the open plain at a point where the dry water
course turned sharply and angled out towards the grassland.

Here in the bend, the banks were still steep enough to conceal fifteen
hundred mounted men.  These, with almost three thousand of the

Ras's own cavalry, formed a formidable offensive army especially if
thrown in unexpectedly against and unbalanced enemy.  The mood of the

Ethiopians, ever sanguinary, was aggravated by the many hours of
enforced inactivity, crouching without cover from the blinding sun on a
white sand bed which reflected its rays like a mirror.  The horses were
already distressed by the heat and lack of water while the men were
murderous.

Gareth Swales had contrived a net, using the natural wide curve of the
water course, into which he hoped to lure the Italian column.  Two
miles farther out in the plain, beyond where he now stood on the turret
of the Hump, a fold of ground concealed the small band of mounted men
who were to provide the bait.  They had been waiting there since the
scouts had first reported the Italian movement early that morning.

Like everybody else they must by this time be restless, bored and
thoroughly uncomfortable.  Gareth wondered that this huge amorphous
body of undisciplined, independent, spirited hills men had so long
maintained cohesion.  He would not have been surprised if by this stage
half of them had lost interest and had set off homewards.

The only person who was occupied and seemed happy enough was Jake

Barton, and Gareth lowered his binoculars and regarded what he could
see of him with irritation.  The front upper half of that gentleman was
completely hidden within the engine compartment of Priscilla the Pig,

and only his legs and backside protruded.  The muffled strains of

"Tiger Rag" whistled endlessly added to Gareth's irritation.

"How are you coming along there?"  he called, merely to stop the music,
and Jake's tousled head emerged, one cheek smeared with black oil.

think I've found it," he said cheerfully.  "A lump of muck in the
carb," and he wiped his hands on the lump of cotton waste that

Gregorius handed him.  "What are the Eyeties up to?"

"I think we've got a small problem, old son," Gareth murmured softly,
turning once more to resume his vigil, and his expression for once was
serious and concerned.  "I must admit that I banked on the old Latin
dash and swagger to bring them charging down here without a backward
glance."

Jake came across from his car and clambered up beside J Gareth.  The
two armoured cars were parked at the extreme end of the curved water
course, just before it lost its identity and vanished into the
limitless sea of grass and rolling sandy hills.  Here the banks of the
river were only just enough to cover the hulls of the two cars, but
they left the turrets partially exposed.  A light cover of cut Thorn
branches made them inconspicuous, while allowing them to act as
observation posts for the crews.

Gareth handed Jake his binoculars.  "I think we've got ourselves a
really wily one here.  This Italian commander isn't rushing.  He's
coming on nice and slow, taking his time," Gareth shook his head
worriedly, "I don', like it at all."

"He's stopped again," Jake said,

watching the distant dust cloud that marked the position of the
advancing column.

The dust cloud shrivelled, and subsided.

"Oh my God!"  groaned Gareth, and snatched the binoculars.  "The
bastard is up to something, I'm sure of it.  This is the seventh time
the column has halted and for no apparent reason at all.  The scouts
can't work it out and nor can I. I've got a nasty hollow feeling that
we are up against some sort of military genius, a modern Napoleon, and
it's making me nervous as hell."  Jake smiled and advised
philosophically, "What you really need is a soothing game of gin. The

Ras is waiting for you."  As if on cue, the Ras looked up brightly and
expectantly from the ammunition box set in the small strip of shade
under the hull.  He had laid out a pattern of playing cards on the lid
which he had been studying.  His bodyguard were grouped behind him.

They also looked up expectantly.

"They've got me surrounded," groaned Gareth.  "I'm not sure which one
is the most dangerous that old bastard down there, or that one out
there."  He raised the binoculars again and swept the long horizon
below the mountains.  There was no longer any sign of dust.

"What the hell is he up to?"  In fact this seventh halt called by

Count Aldo Belli was to be the briefest of the day, and yet one of the
most unavoidable.

It was in fact an occasion of the utmost urgency, and while the

Count's portable commode was hastily unloaded from the truck carrying
his personal gear, he twisted and wriggled impatiently on the back seat
of the Rolls while Gino, the batman, tried to comfort him.

"It is the water from those wells, Excellency," he nodded sagely.

Once the commode had been set up, with a good view of the distant
mountains before it, a small canvas tent was raised around it to hide
the seat from the curious gaze of five hundred infantry men.

The job was completed, only just in time, and a respectful and
expectant hush fell over the entire column as the Count climbed
carefully down from the Rolls and then dashed like an Olympic athlete
for the small lonely canvas structure and disappeared.  The silence and
expectation lasted for almost fifteen minutes and was shattered at last
by the Count's shouts from within the tent.

"Bring the doctor!"  Five hundred men waited with all the genuine
suspense of a movie audience, speculation and rumour running wildly
down the column until it reached Major Castelani.  Even he, convinced
as he was that he had seen it all, could not believe the cause of this
fresh delay, and he went forward to investigate.

He arrived at the tent to find the Count and his medical advisers
crowded around the commode and avidly discussing its contents.  The

Count was pale, but proud, like a new mother whose infant is the centre
of attention.  He looked up as Castelani appeared in the doorway, and
the Major recoiled slightly as, for a moment, it seemed the Count might
invite him to join in the examination.

He saluted hastily, taking another step backwards.

"Has your Excellency orders for me?"

"I am an ill man,

Castelani," and the Count struck a pose, drooping visibly, his head
lolling weakly.  Then slowly he drew back his shoulders, and his chin
came up.  A wan but brave smile tightened his lips.  "But that is of no
account.

We advance, Castelani.  Onwards!  Tell the men I am well.

Hide the truth from them.  If they know of my illness, they will
despair.  They will panic."  Castelani saluted again.  "As you wish,
my

Colonel."

"Help me to the car, Castelani," he ordered, and reluctantly the Major
took his arm.  The Count leaned heavily upon him as they crossed to the
Rolls, but he smiled gallantly at his men and waved to the nearest of
them.

"My poor brave boys," he muttered.  "They must never know.  I will not
fail them now."  What the hell is happening out there?"  fretted

Gareth Swales, glancing up anxiously at Jake on the turret of the car
above him.

"Nothing!"  Jake assured him.  "No sign of movement."  don't like it,"
reiterated Gareth morosely, and his expression hardly altered as the
Ras let out one of his triumphant cries and began laying out his
cards.

"I don't like that either," he said again, and reached for his wallet
before the Ras reminded him.  While the Ras shuffled and dealt the next
hand, he continued his conversation with Jake.

"What about Vicky?  Nothing from that quarter either?"

"Not a peep, "Jake assured him.

"That's another thing I don't like.  She took it too calmly.

I expected her to put in an appearance long ago despite my orders."

"She won't be coming," Jake assured him, raising the binoculars again
and sweeping the empty horizon.

"I wish I was that confident," muttered Gareth, picking up his cards.
"I've been expecting to see her car driving up at any minute.

It isn't like her to sit meekly in camp, while the action is going on
out here.  She's a front-ranker, that one.

She likes to be right there when anything is happening."

"I know,"

Jake -agreed.  "She had that mean look in her eye when she agreed to
stay at the gorge.  So I just made sure she wasn't going to use Miss

Wobbly.  I took the carbon rod out of the distributor."  Gareth began
to grin.  "That's the only good news I've had today.  I had visions
of

Vicky Camberwell arriving in the middle of a fire fight."

"Poor bloody

Italians," observed Jake, and they both laughed.

"Sometimes you surprise me.  Do you know that?"  said Gareth, and he
drew a cheroot from his breast pocket and tossed it up to where Jake
stood.  "Thanks for" looking after what is mine, "he said.  "I

appreciate that."  Jake bit the tip off the cigar, and gave him a
quizzical look as he flicked a match across the rough steel of the
turret and held the flame in his cupped hands to burn off the
sulphur.

"They are all mavericks until somebody puts a brand on them.

That's the law of the range, old buddy," he answered, and lit the
cigar.

Vicky Camberwell had selected five full-grown men from the Ras's camp
attendants, rewarded each one with a silver Maria Theresa dollar,

and worn each of them down to the fine edge of exhaustion.  One after
the other, they had taken hold of Miss Wobbly's crank handle and turned
it like a squad of demented organ-grinders while Vicky shouted
encouragement and threats at them from the driver's hatch, her eyes
blazing and cheeks fiery with frustration.

After an hour of this she was convinced that sabotage had been employed
to keep her safely out of the way, and she began to check out Miss
Wobbly's internal organs.  She was one of those unusual women who liked
to know how things-worked, and throughout her life had plagued a long
series Of mechanics, boyfriends and instructors with her questions.  It
was not enough for her to switch on a machine and steer it.  She had
made herself an excellent driver and pilot, and in the process she had
acquired a fair idea of the workings of the internal combustion
engine.

"All right, Mr.  Barton let's find out what you've done," she muttered
grimly.  "Let's start on the fuel system."  She rolled up her sleeves
and tied a scarf firmly around her hair.  Her five hefty helpers
watched with awe as she approached the engine compartment and lifted
the cowling, and then they crowded forward to get a good view and offer
their advice.  She had to beat them back and shoo them away before she
could begin work, but then she was completely absorbed in her task, and
in half an hour had checked an tested the fuel system,

making sure that gasoline was travelling freely from the tank along the
lines to carburettor and cylinders, and that the pump was functioning
smoothly.

"Right, now let's check out the electrics, she muttered to herself, and
turned irritably as an insistent hand tugged at her belt,

breaking her concentration.

"Yes, what is it?"  Her expression changed, lighting up happily as she
saw who it was.

"Sara!"  She embraced the girl.  "How on earth did you get here?"

"I escaped, Miss Camberwell.  It was so boring in the hospital.  I had
my father's men bring a horse for me and I climbed out of the window
and rode down the gorge."

"What about your friend the young doctor?"

Vicky demanded, still holding the girl and surprised by the strength of
her affection for her.

"Oh, him!"  Sara's voice held a world of scorn and contempt.  "He was
the most boring thing in the hospital.

Doctor!  Ha!  He knows nothing about how a body works I had to try and
teach him, and that was no fun."

"And your leg?"  she asked.

"How is your leg?"

"It is nothing almost well."  Sara tried to dismiss the injury but
Vicky saw that she was drawn and haggard.  The long,

rough ride down the gorge must have taxed her, and as Vicky led her
tenderly to a seat in the shade of the acacias, she favoured the
injured leg heavily.

"I heard there is going to be a battle.  That's really why I came.

I heard the Italians are advancing-" She looked round her brightly,

seeming to thrust her pain and weariness aside.  "Where are Jake and

Gareth?  Where is Gregorius?  We must not miss the battle, Miss

Camberwell "That's what I am working on."  Vicky's smile faded.  "They
have left us behind."

"What!"  Sara's bright look became bellicose and then outraged as Vicky
explained how they had been edged out.

"Men!  You cannot trust them, "fumed Sara.  "If they aren't trying to
tip you on your back, then it's something worse.

We aren't going to let them do it, are we?"

"No," Vicky agreed.

"We are most certainly not."  With Sara beside her, it was impossible
to continue her work on the armoured car, for the girl made up for a
total ignorance of the mechanism by an unbounded curiosity and when
Vicky should have been inspecting the magneto, she found instead that
she was looking closely at the back of Sara's head which had been
interposed.

After she had forcibly elbowed her aside for the sixth time, she asked
with exasperation, "Do you know how to fire a Vickers machine gun?"

"I

am a mountain girl," boasted Sara.  "I was born with a gun in one hand
and a horse between my legs."

"Or what have you?"  murmured Vicky, and the girl grinned impishly.

"But have you ever fired a Vickers?"

"No," admitted Sara reluctantly, and then brightened.

"But it won't take me long to find out how it works."

"There!"

Vicky indicated the thick water-jacketed barrel that protruded from the
turret.  "Go ahead."  When Sara scrambled awkwardly on to the
sponson,

still favouring the leg, Vicky could return to her inspection.  It was
another half hour before she exclaimed, "He has taken the carbon rod
out of the distributor.  Oh, the sneaky swine."  Sara's head popped out
of the turret.  "Gareth?"she asked.

"No," answered Vicky.  "Jake."

"I didn't expect it of him."  Sara climbed down beside Vicky to inspect
the damage.

"They're all the same."

"Where has he hidden it?"

"Probably in his own pocket."

"What are we going to do?"  Sara wrung her hands anxiously.

"We'll miss the battle!"  Vicky thought a moment and then her
expression changed.  "In my bag, in the tent, is an Ever-Ready
flashlight.

There is also a leather cosmetic case.  Bring them both to me,

please."  One of the flashlight dry-cell batteries, split open by the
curved blade of the dagger from Sara's belt, yielded a thick carbon rod
from its core, and Vicky shaped it carefully with the nail-file from
her cosmetic case, until it slipped neatly into the central shaft of
the distributor and the engine fired at the first swing of the crank.

"You are really very clever, Miss Camberwell, said Sara, with such
patent and solemn sincerity that Vicky was deeply touched.  She smiled
up at the girl who stood above the driver's seat, her head and
shoulders in the turret and her knees braced against the back of the
driver's seat.

"Think you can work that gun yet?"  she asked, and Sara nodded
uncertainly and placed her slim dark hands on the clumsy mahogany
pistol grips, standing on tiptoe to squint through the sights.

"Just take me to them, Miss Camberwell."  Vicky let out the clutch and
swung the car in a tight lock out from under the acacia" trees and on
to the steep rocky track which led to the wide open grassland in the
funnel of the mountains.

am very angry with Jake," declared Sara, clutching wildly for support
as the car pounded and thumped over the rough track.  "I did not expect
him to behave that way hiding the carbon rod.  That is more like
Gareth.  I am disappointed in him."

"You are?"

"Yes, I think we should punish him."

"How?"

"I think Gareth should be your lover," Sara stated firmly.

"I think that is how we will punish Jake."  In between wrestling with
the heavy steering, and dancing her feet over the steel pedals of brake
and clutch, Vicky thought about what Sara had said.  She thought also
of Jake's broad rangy shoulders, and thickly muscled arms she thought
about his mop of curly hair and that wide boyish grin that could change
so quickly to a heavy frown.

Suddenly she realized how very much she wanted to be with him, and how
she would miss him if he were gone.

"I must thank you for sorting out my affairs for me," she called to the
girl in the turret.  "You have a knack."

"It's a pleasure, Miss

Camberwell," Sara called back.  "It is just that I understand these
things."  As the afternoon wore on, so thunderheads of cloud "Aformed
upon the mountains in the west.  They soared into a sky of endless
sapphire blue, smoothly rounded masses of silver that rolled and
swirled with a ponderous majesty, swelling high and darkening to the
colour of ripening grapes and old bruises.

Yet over the plain the sky was open, clear and high, and the sun burned
down and heated the earth so that the air above it shimmered and
danced, distorting vision and distance.  At one moment the mountains
were so close that it seemed they reached to the heavens and they must
topple upon the small group of men crouched in the shade of the two
concealed armoured cars; at the next they seemed remote and
miniaturized by distance.

The sun had heated the hulls of the cars so that the steel would
blister skin at a touch and the men who waited, all of them except

Jake Barton and Gareth Swales, crawled like survivors of a catastrophe
beneath the hulls, seeking relief from the unrelenting sun.

The heat was so intense that the gin rummy game had long been
abandoned, and the two white men panted like dogs, the sweat drying
instantly on their skins and crusting into a thin film of white salt
crystals.

Gregorius looked to the mountains, and the clouds upon them, and he
said softly, "Soon it will rain."  He looked up to where Jake Barton
sat like a statue on the turret of Priscilla the Pig.  Jake had swathed
his head and upper body in a white linen sham ma to protect it from the
sun and he held the binoculars in his lap.  Every few minutes, he would
lift them to his eyes and make one slow sweep of the land ahead before
slumping motionless again.

Slowly the shadows crept out from the hulls of the cars, the sun turned
across its zenith and gradually lost its white glare, its rays toned
with yellows and reds.  Once again, Jake lifted the binoculars and this
time paused midway in his automatic sweep of the horizon.

In the lens the familiar dun feather of the distant cloud once again
wavered softly at the line where pale earth and paler sky joined.

He watched it for five minutes, and it seemed that the dust cloud was
fading shrivelling, and that the shimmering pillars of heat-distorted
air were rising, screening his vision.

Jake lowered the glasses and a warm flood of sweat broke from his
hairline, trickled down his forehead into his eyes.

He swore softly it the sting of salt and wiped it away with the hem of
the linen sharnma.  He blinked rapidly, and then lifted the glasses
again and felt his heart jump in his chest and the prickle of rising
hair on the nape of his neck.

The freakish Currents and whirlpools of heated air cleared suddenly,
and the dust cloud that minutes before had seemed remote as the far
shores of the ocean was now so close and crisply outlined against the
pale blue white sky that it filled the lens.  Then his heart jumped
again below the rolling spreading cloud he could make out the dark
insect shapes of many swiftly moving vehicles.  Suddenly the viscosity
of the air changed again, and the shapes of the approaching column
altered becoming monstrous, looming through the mist of duSt.  closer,
every second closer and more menacing.

Jake shouted, and Gareth was beside him in an instant.

"Are you crazy?"  he gasped.  "They'll overrun us in a minute."

"Get started," Jake snapped.  "Get the engines started," and slid down
into the driver's hatch.  There was a flurry of sudden frantic movement
around the cars.  The engines were cranked into reluctant life, surging
and missing and backfiring as the volatile fuel turned to vapour in the
heat and starved the engines.

The Ras was lifted into the turret of Gareth's car by half a dozen of
his men at arms, and installed behind the Vickers gun.  Their job
accomplished, his men were leaving him and hurrying to mount their
ponies when the Ras let out a series of shrieks in Amharic and pointed
at the empty cave of his own mouth, devoid of teeth and big enough to
hibernate a bear.

There was a brief moment of consternation I until the senior and eldest
man at arms produced a large leather covered box from his saddle bag
and hurried with it to kneel humbly on the sponson of the car and
proffer the open box to the Ras.  Mollified, the Ras reached into the
box and brought out a magnificent set of porcelain teeth, big and white
and sharp enough to fit in the mouth of a Derby winner, complete with
bright red gums.

With only a short struggle he forced the set into his mouth, and then
snapped them like a brook trout rising to the fly, before peeling back
his lips in a death's head grin.

His followers cooed and exclaimed with admiration, and Gregorius told
Jake proudly, "My grandfather only wears his teeth when he is fighting
or pleasuring a lady," and Jake spared a brief glance from the
advancing Italian army to admire the dazzling dental display.

"Makes him look younger, not a day over ninety, "he gave his opinion,
and revved the engine, carefully manoeuvring the car into a hull-down
position below the bank from where he could keep the Italians under
observation.  Gareth brought the other car up alongside and grinned at
him from the open hatch.  It was a wicked grin, and Jake realized that
the Englishman was looking forward to the coming clash with
anticipation.

It was no longer necessary to use binoculars.  The Italian column was
less than two miles distant, moving swiftly on a course that was
carrying it parallel to the dry river-bed, beyond the curved horns of
the ambush into the open unprotected funnel of flat land between the
mountains.

Another fifteen minutes at this rate of advance and it would have
turned the Ethiopian flank and would be able to drive without
resistance to the mouth of the gorge and Jake knew better than to hope
to be able to reorganize the rabble of cavalry once their formations
were shattered.  Instinctively he knew that they would fight like
giants as long as the tide carried them forward, but any retreat would
become a rout, and they would race for the hills like factory workers
at five o'clock.  They were accustomed to fighting as individuals,
avoiding set piece battles, but snatching opportunity as it was
offered, swift as hawks, but giving instantly before any determined
thrust by an enemy.

"Come on!"  he muttered to himself, pounding his fist against his thigh
impatiently, and with the first stirring of alarm.  Unless the bait was
offered within the next few moments.  Because they fought as
individuals, each man his own general, and because the art of ambush
and entrapment came as naturally to the Ethiopian as the feel of a
rifle in his hand, Jake need not have fretted.

Seeming to rise from the flat scorched earth under the wheels of the
leading Italian vehicles, a small galloping knot of horsemen flitted
across the heat-tortured earth, seeming to float above it like a flock
of dark birds.  Their shapes wavering and indistinct, wrapped in pale
streamers of dust, they cut back obliquely across the Italian line of
march, running hard for the centre of the hidden Ethiopian line.

Almost instantly a single vehicle detached itself from the head of the
column and headed on a converging course with the flying horsemen.

Its speed was frightening, and it closed so swiftly that the squadron
of cavalry was forced to veer away, forced to edge out towards where
the two armoured cars were hidden.

Behind the single speeding vehicle the Italian column lost its rigid
shape.  The front half of it swung away in a long untidy line abreast
in pursuit of the horsemen.  These were all larger, heavier vehicles,
with high, canvas-covered cupolas, and their progress was ponderous and
so slow that they could not gain perceptibly on the galloping horses.

However, the smaller faster vehicle was gaining rapidly and Jake stood
higher to give himself a better view as he refocused the binoculars. He
recognized instantly the big open Rolls-Royce tourer that he had last
seen at the Wells of Chaldi.  Its polished metalwork glittered in the
sunlight, its low rakish lines enhancing the impression of speed and
power, as the dust boiled out from behind its spinning rear wheels with
their huge flashing central bosses.

Even as he watched, the Rolls braked and skidded broadside, coming to a
halt in a furiously billowing cloud of dust.  A figure tumbled from the
rear seat.

Jake watched the man brace himself over the sporting rifle and the
spurt of gunsmoke from the muzzle as he fired seven shots in quick
succession, the rifle kicking up abruptly at the recoil and the thud
thud of the discharge reaching Jake only seconds later.

The horsemen were drawing swiftly away from the Rolls, but neither the
changing range nor the dust and mirage affected the marksman.  At each
shot a horse went down, sliding against the earth, legs kicking to the
sky or plunging and rolling, as it struggled to regain its legs,

falling back at last and lying still.

Then the rifleman leaped aboard the Rolls again, and the pursuit was
continued, gaining swiftly on the survivors, the heavy phalanx of
trucks and troop transports lumbering on behind it the whole mass of
horses, men and machines rolling steadily deeper into the
killing-ground that Gareth Swales had so carefully surveyed and laid
out for them.

"The bastard!"  whispered Jake, as he watched the Rolls skid to a
standstill once more.  The Italian was taking no chances of approaching
the horsemen closely.  He was standing well off, out of effective range
of their ancient weapons, and he was picking them off one at a time, in
the leisurely fashion of a shot gunner at a grouse shoot in fact, the
whole bloody episode was being played out in the spirit of the hunt.

Even at the range of almost a thousand yards, Jake seemed able to sense
the blood passion of the Italian marksman, the man's burning urge to
kill merely for the sake of inflicting death, for the deep gut thrill
of it.

If they intervened now, cutting into the flank of the widespread and
disordered column, they might save the lives of many of the frantically
fleeing horsemen.  But the Italian column was not yet fully enmeshed in
the trap that had been laid.  Swiftly, Jake traversed the glasses
across the dust-swirling and heat-distorted plain and for the first
time he noticed that a dozen trucks of the Italian rear guard had not
joined the mad, tear arse helter-skelter stampede after the

Ethiopian horsemen.  This small group had halted, seemingly under some
strict control, and now they had been left two miles behind the
roaring, dusty avalanche of heavy vehicles.  Jake could spare no more
attention to this group, for now the slaughter was being continued, the
wildly flying horsemen being cut down by the crack rifleman from the

Rolls.

The temptation to intervene now overwhelmed Jake.  He knew it was not
the correct tactical moment, but he thought, "The hell with it, I'm not
a general, and those poor bastards out there need help."  He shoved his
right foot down hard on the throttle and the engine bellowed, but
before he could pull forward and run at the bank, he was forestalled
by

Gareth Swales.  He had been watching Jake, and the play of emotion over
his face was plain to read.  At the moment he revved the engine, Gareth
swung the front end of the Hump across his bows, blocking him
effectively.

"I say, old chap, don't be an idiot," Gareth called across the narrow
space.  "Calm the savage breast, you'll spoil the whole show."

"Those poor, Jake shouted back angrily.

"They've got to take their chances.  "Gareth cut him short.

"I told you once before your sentimental old-fashioned ideas would get
us both into trouble."  At this stage the argument was drowned by the
Ras.  He was standing tall in the turret above Gareth.  He had armed
himself with the broad, two-handed war sword, and now the excitement
became too much for him to bear longer in silence.  He let out a series
of shrill ululating war cries, and swung the sword in a great hissing
circle around his head both the silver blade and his brilliant set of
teeth catching the sun and flashing like semaphores.

He punctuated his shrill war cries with wild kicks at his driver,

urging him in heated Amharic to have at the enemy, and Gareth ducked
and twisted out of the way of his flying feet.

"A bunch of maniacs!"  protested Gareth as he dodged.

"I've got myself mixed up with a bunch of maniacs!"

"Major

Swales!"  shouted Gregorius, unable to stay out of the argument a
moment longer.  "My grandfather orders you to advance!"

"You tell your grandfather to-" but Gareth's reply was cut short as a
foot caught him in the ribs.

"Advance!"  shouted Gregorius.

"Come on, for chrissake," yelled Jake.

"Yaahooo!"  hooted the Ras, and swung around in the turret to wave on
his men at arms.  They needed no further invitation.  In a loose mob,
they spurred their ponies past the stymied cars and, brandishing their
rifles above their heads, robes streaming in the wind like battle
ensigns, they lunged up the steep bank into the open and galloped
furiously on to the flank of the scattered Italian column.

"Oh my God," sighed Gareth.  "Every man a bloody general-"

"Look!"

shouted Jake, pointing back down the course of the dry river-bed, and
they all fell abruptly silent at the spectacle.

It seemed as though the very earth had opened, disgorgeing rank upon
rank of wildly galloping horsemen.  \Where a moment before the sweep of
land below the mountains had been empty and silent, now it swarmed with
men and horses, hundreds upon hundreds of them, dashing headlong upon
the lumbering Italian column.

The dust hung over it all, rolling forward like the fog off a winter
sea, shrouding the sun, so that horses and machines were dark infernal
shapes below the sombre clouds, and the ruddy sun glinted dully on the
steel of rifle and sword.

"That does it," Gareth agreed bitterly, and reversed his car to clear
Jake's front, before swinging away, engine roaring and the wheels
spinning for purchase in the steep loose earth of the river-bank.

Jake turned wide of the other car and took the bank at an angle to
lessen the gradient, and the two cumbersome machines burst out into the
plain, wheel to wheel.

Before them was the open flank of massed soft-skinned vehicles, as
tempting a target as they had ever been offered in their long and
warlike careers.  The two iron ladies swept forward together,

and it seemed to Jake that there was a new tone to the deep engine note
as though they sensed that once again they were fulfilling the true
reason for their existence.  Jake glanced quickly at the Hump as she
sailed along beside him.  Her angular steelwork, with its flat abrupt
surfaces from which rose the tall turret, still gave her the ugly
old-maidish silhouette, but there was a new majesty in the way she
plunged forward her bright Ethiopian colours fluttered gaily as a
cavalry pennant and the high thin, rimmed wheels spurned the sandy
earth like the hooves of a thoroughbred.  Beneath him, Priscilla drove
forward as gamely, and Jake felt a warm flood of affection for his two
old ladies.

"Have at them, girls!"  he shouted aloud, and Gareth Swales, head
protruding from the driver's hatch of the Hump, turned towards him.

There was a freshly lit cheroot clamped in the corner of his mouth,

seeming to have sprouted there miraculously of its own accord, and

Gareth grinned around it.

"Nob Xegitind carbomndum!"  Jake caught the words faintly above the
roar of wind and motor, then turned his full attention back to
controlling the racing machine, and bringing her as swiftly as possible
into the gaping breach in the Italian line.

Abruptly the pattern of movement ahead of him changed.  The exultantly
pursuing Italian warriors had realized belatedly that the roles had
been neatly switched.

The Count picked up the horseman in the sight, and led off just a
touch, a hair's breadth, for the Marmlicher was a high-velocity rifle
and the range was not more than a hundred metres.

He saw the hit clearly, the man lurched in the saddle and sprawled
forward over the horse's neck, but he did not fall.  The rifle dropped
from his hands and cartwheeled across the earth, but the man clung
desperately to the horse's mane while quick crimson spread across the
shoulder of his dirty white robe.

The Count fired again, aiming for the junction of the horse's neck and
shoulder, and saw the jarring impact spin the animal off its feet,

so that it fell heavily upon its wounded rider, crushing the air from
his lungs in a short high wail.

The Count laughed, wild with excitement.  "How many, Gino?  How many is
that?"

"Eight, my Colonel."

"Keep counting.  Keep counting," he urged, as he swung the rifle,
seeking the next target, peering eagerly over the open vee sight.  Then
suddenly he froze, the rifle barrel wavering and sinking to point at
his glossy toe caps  His lower jaw unhinged and slowly sank, as if in
sympathy with the rifle barrel.  His recent affliction, forgotten in
the excitement of the chase, returned suddenly with a force that turned
his bowels to water and his legs to rubber.

"Merciful Mary!"  he whispered.

The entire horizon was moving, an Unbroken line from one edge of his
vision to the other.  It took him many seconds to assimilate what he
was seeing, to realize that instead of fifteen horsemen, there were
suddenly thousands upon thousands, and that rather than running before
him they were now moving towards him at a velocity which he would not
have believed possible.  As he stared, he saw rank upon rank of the
enemy seemingly rising from the very earth ahead of him, and rushing
towards him through a curtain of fine pale dust.  He saw the lowering
sun glint red as blood upon the naked blades, and the drumming of
galloping hooves sounded like the thunder of a giant waterfall.  Yet
faintly through the thunder, he heard the blood-freezing war shrieks of
the horsemen.

"Giuseppe," he gasped.  "Take us away from here fast!

Very fast."  This was the sort of appeal that went directly to the
driver's heart.  He spun the big car so nimbly that the Count's
considerably weakened legs collapsed and he fell backwards onto the
leather seat.

Spread over a front of a quarter of a mile behind and on each side of
the Rolls came thirty of the dun coloured Fiat troop-carriers.

Despite their most fervent efforts, they had lost ground steadily to
the thrusting Rolls and they now lumbered along almost a thousand yards
behind.  However, the excitement of the chase had affected the
occupants and they had climbed up on the cabs and cupolas, and hung
there hooting and yelling as they watched the sport, like runners at a
fox hunt.

This solid phalanx of vehicles, advancing almost wheel to wheel over
the rough ground, at a speed which would have horrified the
manufacturers, was suddenly faced with the urgent necessity of
reversing its headlong career without any loss of speed.

The drivers of the two leading trucks whose need was most critical
solved the problem by spinning_ the wheels to hard lock, one left and
the other right, and they came together radiator to radiator at a
combined speed in excess of sixty miles per hour.  In a roaring cloud
of steam, splintering glass and rending metal, their cargoes of black
shirted infantry men were scattered like wheat upon the earth, or
impaled on various metal projections of the vehicle bodies.  The
trucks, inextricably locked into each other, settled slowly on their
shattered suspensions, and no sooner had the dust begun to drift away
than there was a belly baking thump as the contents of their shattered
fuel tanks ignited in a tall volcanic spout of flame and black smoke.

The other vehicles managed to reverse their courses without serious
collision and streamed away into their own dust-clouds, pursued by a
horde of galloping, gibbering cavalry.

Count Aldo Belli could not bring himself to glance back over his
shoulder, certain that he would find a razor-edged sword swishing
inches from his cringing rear, and he leaned over his driver, spurring
him to greater speed by beating on his unprotected head and shoulders
with a fist clenched like a hammer.

"Faster!"  shouted the Count, his fine baritone rising to an uncertain
contralto.  "Faster, you idiot or I will have you shod" and he hit the
driver again behind one ear, experiencing a small spark of relief as
the Rolls overtook the rear vehicles in the disordered herd of fleeing
trucks.

Now at last he judged it safe to look back, and his relief was more
intense when he realized that the Rolls was easily capable of out
-running a mounted man.  He experienced a warm flood of returning
courage.

"My rifle, Gino," he shouted.  "Give me my rifle."  But the

Sergeant was trying to focus his camera on the pursuing horde, and
the

Count hit him a blow over the top of his head.

"Idiot.  This is war," he bellowed.  "And I am a warrior give me my
rifle!"  Giuseppe, the driver, hearing him, reluctantly decided that he
was expected to slow the Rolls to give the Count an opportunity to
follow his warlike intentions but, at the first diminution of speed,

he received another lusty crack on the centre of his pate and the

Count's voice went shrill again.

"Idiot," he screeched.  "Do you want to get us killed?

Faster, man, faster!"  and with unbounded relief the driver pushed his
foot flat on the throttle and the Rolls leapt forward again.

Gino was down on his hands and knees at the Count's feet, and now he
came up with the Mannlicher in his hands and handed it to the Count.

"It's loaded, my Count."

"Brave boy!"  The Count braced himself with the rifle held at his hip,
and looked about for something to shoot at.

The Ethiopian cavalry had fallen well behind at this stage, and the

Rolls had overtaken most of the troop-carriers they were between the

Count and the enemy.  The Count was considering ordering Giuseppe to
work his way out on to the flank, and thus give him an open field of
fire weighing the pleasure of shooting down the black riders at a
respectable range against any possible physical danger to himself and
he turned on his precarious perch in the back seat to look out in that
direction.

He stared incredulously at what he saw.  Two great humpbacked shapes
were sailing in across the open grassland.  They looked like two
deformed camels, coming on swiftly with a curious loping progress that
was at once comical and yet dreadfully menacing.

The Count stared at them uncomprehendingly, until with a sudden jolt of
shock and a new warm flood of adrenalin into his bloodstream,

he realized that the two strange vehicles were moving fast enough and
at such an angle as to cut off his retreat.

"Giuseppe!"  he shrieked, and hit the driver with the butt of the

Marmlicher.  It was not a heavy blow, it was meant merely to attract
his attention, but Giuseppe had already taken much punishment and was
by now lightly concussed.

He clung to the wheel with white knuckles and roared on directly into
the path of the new enemy.

"Giuseppe!"  shrieked the Count again, as he suddenly recognized the
gaily coloured flashes on the turret of the nearest machine, and at the
same instant saw the thick stubby cylindrical shape that protruded
ahead of it.  It was fluted vertically and at the far end a short pipe
like muzzle thrust out of the heavy water-jacket.

"Oh, merciful Mother of God!"  he howled as the machine altered course
slightly and the muzzle of the Vickers machine gun pointed directly at
him.

"You fool!"  he shrieked at Giuseppe, hitting him again.

"Turn!  You idiot, turn!"  Suddenly through the tears of pain, the
singing in his ears, and the blinding terror that gripped him, Giuseppe
saw the huge camel-like shape looming up ahead of him and he spun the
wheel again just as the muzzle of the Vickers erupted in a fluttering
pillar of bright flame and the air all around them was torn by the hiss
and crack of a thousand bull whips.

Castelani stood on the cab of his truck, and peered disapprovingly
through his binoculars into the distant clouds of rolling dust where
confused movement and shadowy indistinguishable shapes flitted without
seeming purpose or pattern.

It had required all of his presence and authority to restrain the ten
trucks which carried the artillery men and towed their field pieces, to
keep them under his personal command and to prevent them joining in the
wildly enthusiastic rush after the small contingent of

Ethiopian horsemen.

Castelani was about to give the order to mount up and cautiously follow
the Count's charge into history and glory, when he raised the
binoculars again and it seemed that the pattern of dust-obscured
movement out there had altered.  Suddenly he saw the unmistakable shape
of a Fiat transport emerge from the dust bank, and move ponderously
back towards him.  Through the glasses the men who clung to the canvas
roof were all staring back in the direction from which they were coming
at speed.

He panned the glasses slowly and saw another truck lumber out of the
dust-mist headed back towards him.  One of the soldiers on its roof was
aiming and firing his rifle back into the obscuring clouds and his
comrades, clinging to the roof about him, were frozen in attitudes of
trepidation and alarm.

At that moment, Castelani heard something which he recognized
instantly, his skin prickling at the distant ripping tearing sound.

The sound of a British Vickers machine gun.

His eye sought the direction, turning swiftly to the right flank of the
extended Italian column which seemed now to be rushing back towards him
in confused and completely disordered retreat.

He picked up the tall hump-backed shape instantly, standing high on the
open plain, coming in fast with the strange bounding motion of a
rocking horse, cutting boldly into the flank of the mass of
soft-skinned Italian transports.

"Unlimber the guns," shouted Castelani.  "Prepare to receive enemy
armour."  The Vickers machine guns in the turrets of the two armoured
cars had ball-type mountings.  The barrels could be elevated or
depressed, but they could not traverse more than ten degrees to left or
right, this being the limit of the ball mountings" turn.  The driver
had of necessity to act as gun-layer, swinging the entire vehicle to

Within the limited traverse aim of the gun, or at least bring it of the
mounting.

The Ras found this frustrating beyond all enduring.  He would select a
target, and shout in perfectly clear and coherent Amharic to his
driver.  Gareth Swales, not understanding a word of it, had already
selected another target and was doing his best to line up on it while
the Ras delivered a series of wild kicks at his kidneys to register his
royal right of refusing to engage it.

The consequence of this was that the Hump wove a crazy,

unpredictable course through the Italian column, spinning off at sudden
tangents as the two crew members shouted bitter recriminations at each
other, almost ignoring the sheets of rifle fire that thundered upon the
steel hull from point-blank range, like hail on a galvanized roof.

Priscilla the Pig, on the other hand, was doing deadly execution.

She had missed her first burst fired at the speeding Rolls, and it had
ducked away behind the screen of dust and bucking trucks.  Now,

however, Jake and Gregoritis were working with all the precision and
mutual understanding that had developed between them.

"Left driver, left, left," called Gregorius, peering down the open
sights of the Vickers at the truck that roared and bounced along a
hundred yards ahead of them.

"All right, I'm on him," shouted Jake, as the vehicle appeared in the
narrow field of his visor.  This was a perforated steel plate that
allowed only forward vision but once Jake had the truck centred, he
followed its violent efforts to dislodge him, closing in rapidly until
he was twenty yards behind it.

The back of the truck was packed with black-shirted infantry men.  Some
of them were directing wild but rapid rifle fire at the pursuing car,
the bullets clanging and whining off the hull, but most of them clung
white-faced to the sides of the truck and stared back with stricken
eyes as the armoured death carrier bore down inexorably upon them.

"Shoot, Greg!"  called Jake.  Even through the cold anger that gripped
him, he was pleased that the boy had obeyed his orders and held his
fire until this moment.  There would be no wastage now, at so short a
range every round ripped into the Italian truck, tearing through
canvas, flesh, bone and steel at the rate of seven hundred rounds a
minute.

The truck swerved violently and its front end collapsed; it went over
broadside, crashing over and over, flinging the men high in the air,
the way a spaniel throws off the droplets from its back as it leaps
from water to land.

"Driver, right," called Gregorius immediately.  "Another truck,

right, a little more right that's it, you're on."  And they roared in
pursuit of another panic-stricken load of Italians.

A hundred yards away on their flank the Hump scored its first success.
Gareth Swales was no longer able to accept the indignity of the Ras's
flying feet, and his frenzied and completely unintelligible commands.
He left the controls of the racing car to swing an angry punch at the
Ras.

"Cut that out, old chap," he snapped.  "Play the game I'm on your side,
damn it."  The car, no longer under control, jinked suddenly.

Almost side by side with them sped a Fiat truck, filled with

Italians, and the driver had not yet realized that there was another
enemy apart from the pursuing hordes of Ethiopian horsemen.  His head
was twisted around over his shoulder at an impossible angle, and he
drove by instinct alone.

The two uncontrolled vehicles came together at an acute angle and at
the top of their combined speeds.  Steel met steel in a storm of sparks
and they staggered away from the blow, both of them veering over
steeply.  For a moment it" seemed that the Hump would go over; she
teetered at the extreme end of her centre of gravity and then came back
on to all four wheels with a crash that threw the men inside her
unmercifully against her steel sides, before racing on again with

Gareth wrestling at the wheel for control.

The Fiat truck was lighter and stood higher; the armoured car had
caught her neatly under the cab and she did not even waver, but flipped
over on her back, All four wheels still spinning as they "pointed at
the sky, and the cab and canvas-covered hood were torn away instantly,
the men beneath them smeared between steel and hard earth.

It was all too much for the Ras.  He could no longer contain his
frustration at being enclosed in a hot metal box from which he could
see almost nothing, while all around hundreds of his hated enemies were
escaping with complete impunity.  He flung open the hatch of the turret
and stuck out his head and shoulders, yipping shrilly with bloodlust,

frustration, anger and excitement.

At that moment, an open sky-blue and glistening black Rolls-Royce
tourer flashed across the front of the Hump.  In the rear seat was an

Italian officer bedecked with the glittering insignia of rank instantly
Gareth Swales and the Ras were in perfect accord once again.

They had found a target eminently acceptable to both of them.

"I say, tally-ho!"  cried Gareth, to be answered by a bloodcurdling

"How do you do!"  like the crowing of an enraged rooster from the
turret above him.

Count Aldo Belli was in hysterics, for the driver seemed to have lost
all sense of direction; now more than just a little concussed, he had
turned at right angles across the line of flight of the Italian column.
This was as hazardous as running an ocean liner at full speed through a
field of icebergs for the rolling dust-clouds had reduced visibility to
less than fifty feet, and out of this brown fog the lumbering
troop-carriers appeared without warning, the drivers in no fit
condition to take evasive action, all looking back over their
shoulders.

Ahead of them, two more monstrous shapes appeared out of the dust;

one was an Italian truck and the other was one of the cumbersome
camel-backed vehicles with the Ethiopian colours splashed upon its hull
and a Vickers machine gun protruding from its turret.

Suddenly the armoured car swerved and crashed heavily into the side of
the truck, capsizing it instantly and then swerving back towards the
Rolls.  It came so close, towering over them so threateningly, that it
entered even Giuseppe's limited field of vision.

The effect was miraculous.  Giuseppe shot bolt upright in his seat and,
with the touch of an inspired Nuvolari, brought the Rolls round on two
wheels, cutting finely across the armoured bows just at the moment that
the hatch of the turret flew open and a wizened brown face, filled with
the largest, whitest and most flashing teeth the Count had ever seen,
popped out of the turret and emitted a war cry so shrill and
heart-chilling that the Count's bowels flopped over like a stranded
fish.

As the barrel of the Vickers swung on to the Rolls, the Ethiopian
gunner ducked down into the turret, and the barrel elevated slightly
until the Count found himself staring stupidly into its dark round
aperture but Giuseppe had been watching also in the driving mirror,

and now he spun the wheel and the Rolls flashed aside like a mackerel
before the driving charge of the barracuda.  The blast of shot from
the

Vickers tore down its left side lifting a storm of dirt and pebbles in
spurting fountains high into the air.

The armoured car swung heavily to follow the Rolls" manoeuvre, the
leaping dust fountains swinging with it, closing in mercilessly.

However, Giuseppe, faced with the prospect of death, hit the brakes so
hard that the Count was catapulted forward, howling protests, to hang
over the front seat, his ample black-clad buttocks pointing at the
heavens and his glistening boots kicking wildly as he fought for
balance.

The sheet of bullets from the swinging Vickers passed mere inches ahead
of the Rolls, and Giuseppe swung the wheel to hard opposite lock,

released the brakes and trampled hard on the throttle.  The Rolls
kicked over hard, wheels spinning for purchase, then bounded ahead with
such impetus that the Count was thrown backwards again, crashing into a
sitting position on the rear leather seat, his helmet falling over his
eyes.

"I'll have you shot," he gasped, as he struggled weakly to adjust the
helmet.  Giuseppe was too busy to hear him.  His duck and swerve had
beaten the Ethiopian gunner, and the superior speed of the Rolls was
carrying it swiftly out of harm's way.  just a few more seconds then
the ancient but splendidly toothed head of the gunner appeared once
more in the turret, and the bows of the armoured car and the questing
muzzle of the Vickers swung back.  The gunner dropped back behind the
gun and the roaring clatter of bullets sounded high above the bellow of
straining engines.

Once again, the dust storm of bullets tore up the earth, swinging
rapidly towards the Rolls.

Slightly ahead of the two vehicles, another growling, labouring
troop-carrier loomed out of the dust on a parallel course with them,

but travelling at only half the speed under its heavy load of terrified
troopers.

Giuseppe touched the wheel, swaying out slightly away from the stream
of bullets, then he swung hard the opposite way and as the armoured car
turned to follow him he ducked neatly behind the troop-carrier,
screened by its high unstable bulk from the deadly machine gun.  The
Ethiopian kept firing.

As the solid hose of fire tore through the canvas hood of the truck,
ripping and shredding the men crowded shoulder to shoulder beneath it,
the Rolls was pulling away swiftly in its lee.  Suddenly,

it was out of the dust clouds into the crystal desert air, with a vista
of open land stretching away to the horizon a horizon which was the
passionate destination of every man in the Rolls.  The lumbering troop
carriers were left behind, and the Rolls could make a clean run of it.
The way the Count felt at that moment, they would only stop once he was
safely into his defensive positions above the Wells of Chaldi.

Then quite suddenly, he was aware of the guns on the open plain ahead
of him.  They were drawn up neatly in spaced-out triangular batteries,
three vees of three guns each, with the gunners grouped about them and
the long fit barrels covering the approaching mass of fleeing
vehicles.

There was a parade-ground feeling of calm and good order about them
that made the Count blubber with relief after the nightmare from which
he had just emerged.

"Giuseppe, you have saved us," he sobbed.  "I am going to give you a
medal.  "The threat of capital punishment made a few minutes earlier
was forgotten.  "Drive for the guns, my brave boy.  You have done good
work and you'll find me grateful."  At that moment, emboldened by talk
of safety, Gino lifted himself from the floorboards where he had been
resting these last few minutes.  He looked cautiously over the rear of
the Rolls, and what he saw caused him to let out a single strangled cry
and to drop once more into his original position on the floor.

Behind them the Ethiopian armoured car had burst out of the dust clouds
and was bounding determinedly after them.

The Count took one look also, and immediately resumed his encouragement
of Giuseppe, beating on his head with a fist like a judge's gavel.

"Faster, Giuseppe!"  he shrieked.  "If he kills us, I'll have you
shot."  And the Rolls raced for the protection of the guns.

ready now!"  intoned Major Castelani gravely, trying by the tone of his
voice to quiet their nerves.

"Steady, my lads.  Hold your fire.  Hold your fire.

"Remember your drill," he said.  "Just remember your range drill,

soldier."  He paused a moment beside the nearest gun layer lifting his
binoculars and sweeping the field ahead.

The dust cloud was rolling rapidly towards them, but all the action was
confused and indistinct.

"You are loaded with high explosive?"  the Major asked quietly, and the
gun-layer gulped nervously and nodded.

"Remember, the first shot is the only one you can aim with care.

Make it count."

"Sir."  The man's voice was unsteady, and Castelani felt a stab of
anger and contempt.  They were all un blooded boys, unsteady and
nervous.  He had been forced to push them to their places and put the
trails of the guns in their hands.

He turned abruptly, and strode to the next battery.

"Steady now, lads.  Hold your fire until it counts."  They turned
strained, pale faces to him; one of the layers looked as though he
would burst into tears at any moment.

"The only thing you have to be afraid of is me!  growled

Castelani.  "Let one of you open fire before I give the order and
you'll-" A cry interrupted him, as one of the loaders stood up and
pointed out on to the field.

"Take that man's name," snapped Castelani, and turned with dignity,
making a show of polishing the lens of his binoculars on his sleeve
before raising them to his eyes.

Colonel Count Aldo Belli was leading his men back so enthusiastically
that he had outstripped them by half a mile, and every moment was
widening the gap.  He was driving directly at the centre of the
artillery batteries, and he was standing tall in the back seat of the
Rolls, with both arms waving and gesticulating as though he was being
attacked by a swarm of bees.

Even as Castelani watched, from out of the brown curtains of dust
beyond the Rolls burst a machine that he recognized instantly, despite
its new camouflage paint and the unfamiliar weapon in the turret.  It
did not need the gay pennant that flew above it to identify his
enemy.

"Very well, lads," he said quietly.  "Here they come.  High explosive,
and wait for the order.  Not a moment before."  The speeding armoured
car fired, a long tearing ripping burst.  Much too long,

Castelani thought with grim satisfaction.  That gun would be
overheating, and they could expect a jam.  An experienced gunner laid
down short, spaced bursts of fire the enemy were green also,

Castelani decided.

"Steady, lads, "he snapped, watching his men stir restlessly at the
sound of gunfire and exchange nervous glances.

The car fired again, and he saw the fall of shot around the Rolls,

kicking up swift jumping spurts of dust and earth another long ripping
hail of fire.  That ended abruptly and was not repeated.

"Ha!"  snorted Castelani, with satisfaction.  "She has jammed."  His
wavering gunners would not have to receive fire.  It was good.  It
would steel them, give them confidence to shoot, without being shot
at.

"Steady now.  All steady.  Not long to wait.  Nice and steady now." His
voice lost its jagged, emery-paper tone and became soothing and
crooning like a mother at the cradle.

"Wait for it, lads.  Easy now."  The Ras did not understand what had
happened, why the gun remained silent, despite all the strength of both
his hands on pistol grip and triggers.  The long canvas belt of
ammunition still drooped from the bins and fed into the breech of the

Vickers but it no longer moved.

The Ras swore at the gun, such an oath that, had he hurled it at
another man, would have led immediately to a duel to the death, but the
gun remained silent.

Armed with his two-handed battle sword, the Ras climbed half out of the
turret and brandished it about his head.

It is doubtful if he would have realized what three batteries of modern
100 men field guns would have looked like from the business end,

or, if he had recognized them, whether they would have daunted his
determined pursuit of the fleeing Rolls.  As it was, his reason and
vision were clouded with the red mists of battle rage.  He did not see
the waiting guns.

Below him, Gareth Swales leaned forward in the driver's seat peering
shortsightedly through the visor, which narrowed his field of vision
and partially obscured it as though he was looking through the
perforated bottom of a kitchen colander.  His eyes were swimming from
the cordite smoke, the engine fumes and the dust-motes so that he
blinked rapidly as he concentrated all his efforts in following the
speeding ethereal shape of the Rolls.  He did not see the waiting
guns.

"Shoot, damn you," he shouted.  "We are going to lose him."  But above
him the Vickers was silent, and from his seat low down in the hull, the
slight fold of ground so carefully chosen by Major

Castelani half-hid the batteries.

He raced towards them, drawn on inexorably by the fleeting shape of the
Rolls dancing elusively ahead of him.

Good."  Castelani allowed himself a bleak little smile as he watched
the enemy vehicle come on steadily.

Already it was within comfortable range for an experienced gunner, but
he knew it must be half as close again before his own crews could make
any certainty of their practice.

The Rolls, however, was a mere two hundred metres in front of the guns,
and coming on at a speed that could not have been less than sixty miles
an hour.  Three terrified and chalky faces were turned towards him in
dreadful appeal and three voices were raised in loud cries for succour.
The Major ignored them and swiftly turned his professional eye back to
the enemy.  He found it was still two thousand metres out across the
plain but closing satisfactorily.  He was on the point of uttering
another reassurance to his edgy gunners, when the Rolls roared through
the narrow gap in the centre of his batteries.

The Count had at that moment temporarily found his feet and replaced
his helmet on his head.  Standing on the high platform of the

Rolls, his voice, powered with adrenalin and shrill with terror,

carried clearly to every gunner.

"Open fire!"  shrieked the Count.  "Open fire immediately!  or I

will have you all shot!"  and then, realizing that they should be
encouraged to remain at their posts and cover his withdrawal, he
reached frantically for inspiration and flung over his shoulder one
rousing "Death before dishonour!"  before the Rolls bore him away,
still at sixty miles an hour, towards the long distant horizon.

The Major lifted his voice in a great bugling bellow to countermand the
order, but even his lungs were no match for the thunderous volley of
nine field guns fired in as close to unison as they had never been in
training.  Each gunner took his Colonel at his literal word when he
said "immediately" and such refinements as laying and aiming were
forgotten in the dire urgency of firing as furiously and as fast as
possible.

In the circumstances, it was nothing short of a miracle that one
high-explosive shell found a mark.  This was a Fiat troop-carrier which
emerged at that moment from the dust clouds a quarter of a mile behind
the Ethiopian armoured car.  The shell was fused to a thousandth of a
second delay; it went in through the radiator, shattered the engine
block, disintegrated the driver, then burst in the midst of the group
of terrified infantrymen huddled under the canvas hood.

The engine and front wheel of the truck kept going forward for a few
seconds before beginning to roll and bounce over the irregular ground
the rest of the truck and twenty men went straight upwards,

fifty feet in the air like a troupe of maniacal acrobats.

Only one other shell came close to hitting the enemy.  It burst ten
yards in front of the Hump, emptying in a towering pillar of flame and
yellow earth, and gouging a deep round crater, four feet across,

into which the speeding car plunged.

The Ras, whose head was protruding from the turret, and whose mouth and
eyes were wide open, had all three of these body apertures filled with
flying sand from the explosion and his war whoops were cut off
abruptly, as he choked for breath and tried frantically to wipe his
streaming eyes.

Gareth also had his vision abruptly closed by the pillar of flame and
sand, and he drove blindly into the shell crater.

The impact threw him out of his seat, and the steering wheel hit him in
the chest, driving the wind out of his lungs before snapping off short
at the floorboards.

With another bound, the Hump bounced jauntily out of the shell crater
with streamers of dust and shell smoke swirling about her.  She was
hanging over on one side with her springs snapped off by the jolt,

and her front wheels locked firmly to one side, yet her engine still
bellowed at full power and she went into a tight right-hand circle,

around and around like a circus animal.

Wheezing for breath, Gareth dragged himself back into the driver's
seat, only to find that there was no longer a steering column and that
the throttle had jammed at the fully open position.  He sat there for
long seconds, shaking his head to clear it, and struggling desperately
for breath, for the hull was filled with dust and smoke.

Another shell, bursting somewhere close beside the hull, roused him
from the stupors of shock, and he reached up, unlatched the driver's
hatch and stuck his head out into the open air.  At what seemed like
point-blank range, three full batteries of Italian field guns were
firing at him.

"Oh my God!"  he gasped painfully, as another volley of high explosive
erupted around the rapidly circling car, the blast jarring his eyeballs
and rattling his teeth in his head.

"Let's go home!"  he said and began to hoist himself out of the narrow
hatch-way.  His feet came clear of the steel flooring of the hull only
just in time to save every bone below his knees in both legs from being
shattered into small fragments.

a thousand yards away across the plain Major Castelani was fighting for
control against the panic that the Count had instilled in his gunners.
They were loading and firing with such single-minded passion that all
the other refinements of gunnery were completely forgotten. The layers
were no longer making a pretence of seeking a target, but merely
jerking the lanyard at the very moment the breech block clanged shut.

Castelani's bellows made no impression on the half deafened and almost
completely dazed gunners.  The Count's last injunction to death had
shattered their nerves completely and they were all of them beyond
reason.

Castelani dragged the nearest layer from his seat behind the gun
shield, and prised open the man's death grip on the lanyard.  Cursing
bitterly at the quality of the men under his command, he pedalled the
traverse and elevating handles of the gun with a smooth expert
action.

The thick barrel dropped and swung until the insect speck of the
armoured car loomed suddenly large in the magnifying prism of the
gunsight.  It was tearing in a crazy circle, clearly out of control,

and Castelani picked up the rhythm of its circle and hit the lanyard
with a short hard jerk of the wrist.  The barrel flew back, arrested at
last by the hydraulic pistons of the shock absorber, and the
fifteen-pound cone-shaped steel shell was hurled on an almost flat
trajectory across the plain.

It was aimed fractionally low.  It passed inches below the tall
shuttered bows of the car, between the two front wheels, and struck the
earth directly below the driver's compartment.

The released energy.  of the blast was deflected by the earth's surface
up into the soft underbelly of the hull.  It blew the engine block off
its seating, tore off the big front wheels like wings from a roast
chicken, and stove in the steel floor of the hull with a great

Thor's hammer stroke.

If Gareth Swales's feet had been in contact with the steel floor of the
hull, the shock would have been transmitted directly into the bones of
his feet and legs, and he would have suffered that dreadful but
characteristic wound of the tank man below the knees his legs would
have been transformed into bags of shattered bone.

He was, however, suspended half in and half out of the driver's hatch
with both legs kicking frantically in the air, and the shock of the
blast came up like carbon dioxide in a bottle of freshly opened
champagne.  He was the cork and he was shot out of the hatch, still
kicking.

The effect on the Ras was the same.  He came out of the turret,

propelled high by the blast and he met Gareth at the top of his
trajectory.  The two of them came down to earth simultaneously, with
the Ras seated between Gareth's shoulder blades, and the wonder of it
was that neither of them was impaled upon the war sword which went with
them and finally pegged deep into the earth six inches from Gareth's
ear as he lay face down and feebly tried to dislodge the Ras from his
back.

"I warn you, old chap," he managed to gasp.  "One day you are going to
go too far."  The sound of oncoming engines, many of them and all
roaring in high revolutions, made Gareth's efforts to dislodge the

Ras more determined.  He sat up spitting sand and blood from his
crushed lips, and looked up to see the remaining Italian transports
bearing down on them like the starting grid of the Le Mans Grand
Prix.

"Oh my God!"  gasped Gareth, his scattered wits reassembling hastily,
and he crawled frantically into the shattered and still smoking carcass
of the Hump, beginning to shrink down out of sight before he realized
that the Ras was no longer with him.

"Rassey, you stupid old bastard come back, he shouted despairingly. The
Ras, once again armed with his trusty broadsword,

was staggering out on unsteady stork's legs, stunned by the shell burst
but still fighting mad, and there was no doubting his intentions.  He
was going to take on the entire motorized column single-handed, and as
he hurried to meet them, shouting a challenge, he loosened up with a
few hissing two-handed cuts with the sword.

Gareth had to duck under the swinging blade, going in low in a flying
rugby tackle, to bring the old warrior down in an untidy heap.

He dragged him, still shouting and struggling furiously, under cover of
the broken steel hull, just as the first Italian truck roared past
them.  The pale-faced occupants paid them not the slightest attention.
they were intent on one thing only and that was following their
Colonel.

"Shut up!"  growled Gareth, as the Ras tried to provoke them with some
of the foulest oaths in the Amharic language.  Finally he had to hold
the Ras down, wrap his sham ma around his head, and sit on it while the
Italian Fiats thundered past, and the rolling clouds of dust spread
over them as though driven by the khamsin.

Once through the dust and confused stampede of trucks, Gareth thought
he glimpsed the hump-backed shape of Priscilla the Pig, and he released
the Ras for a moment to wave and shout, but the car disappeared almost
instantly, hard on the trail of a lumbering Fiat,

and Gareth heard the short crashing burst of the Vickers clearly, even
above the thunder of many engines.

Then suddenly they were all past, streaming away, the engine sounds
fading, the dust settling and then there was another sound,

faint yet but growing with every second.

Although most of the Harari and Galla horsemen had long ago given up
the pursuit in favour of the more enjoyable and profitable occupation
of looting the capsized and damaged Italian trucks, a few hundred of
the more hardy souls still flogged on their foundering mounts.

This thin line of horsemen came sweeping forward, ululating and
casually cutting down the Italian survivors from the destroyed trucks
who fled before them on foot.

"All right, Rassey."  Gareth unwound the sham ma from around his head.
"You can come out now.  Call your boys up, and tell them to get us out
of here."  In the few moments of respite while the main body of
motorized infantry came through the batteries, Major Castelani hurried
from gun to gun, lashing with tongue and cane until he had contained
the infectious panic of his gunners and had them under his hand
again.

Then out of the dust clouds, appearing at short pistol range as
suddenly as a ghost ship, but with the Vickers machine gun in its
turret crackling wickedly and the muzzle blast flickering in an angry
throbbing red glow, was a second Ethiopian armoured car.

It was enough to destroy the semblance of control that Castelani had
forced heavy-handedly upon the gun crews.

As the armoured car swung across their line at point-blank range,

raking the exposed guns with a withering.  burst of machine-gun fire,

the loaders dropped their ready shells and almost knocked the layers
from their seats in their anxiety to get behind the armoured shield of
the gun.  They all huddled there with their heads well down.  The
driver of the armoured car, after that one rapid pass down the front of
the batteries, swung the vehicle abruptly back into the screen of
dust.

Jake had been just as startled by the encounter as were the gunners;

at one moment he had been joyously tearing along after a fat
wallowing

Fiat, and at the next he had emerged from a cloud of dust to be
confronted by the gaping muzzles of the big guns.

"My God, Greg, "Jake shouted up at the boy in the turret.

"We nearly ran right into them."

"Volleyed and thundered do you remember the poem?"

"Poetry, at a time like this?"  growled Jake, and he gave Priscilla the
throttle.

"Where are we going?"

"Home, and the sooner the quicker.  That's a powerful argument they are
pointing at us."

"Jake-" Gregorius began to protest, when there was a bang and a flash
that glowed briefly even through the shrouds of dust, and close beside
the high turret passed a

100 men.  shell.  The air slammed against their eardrums and the shriek
of it made both of them flinch violently, the air.

stank of the electric sizzle of its passing, and it burst half a mile
beyond them in a tall tower of flame and dust.

"Do you see what I mean?"  asked Jake.

"Yes, Jake oh yes, indeed  As he spoke, the dust clouds that had
covered them so securely now subsided and drifted aside, exposing them
unmercifully to the attentions of the Italian guns, but revealed also
was another tempting target.  The Ethiopian cavalry were still coming
on, and after a few futile volleys had burst around the tiny elusive
shape of the speeding car, Castelani resigned himself to the
limitations of his gunners and switched targets.

"Shrapnel," he bellowed.  "Load with shrapnel fuse for air burst."

He hurried along the battery, repeating the order to each layer,

emphasizing his orders with the cane.  "New target.  Massed horsemen.

Range two thousand five hundred metres, fire at will."  The Ethiopian
ponies were small shaggy beasts, bred for sure-footed ascent of
mountain paths, rather than sustained charges across open plains they
had, moreover, been pastured for weeks now on the dry sour grass of the
desert, and in consequence their strength was by this time almost
expended.

The first shrapnel burst fifty feet above the heads of the leading
riders.  It popped open like a gigantic pod of the cotton plant,

blooming with sudden fearsome splendour the milky blue sky.  It bloomed
with a crack as though the sky had shattered, and instantly the air was
filled with the humming, hissing knives of flying shrapnel.

A dozen of the ponies went down under the first burst, pitching forward
abruptly over their own heads and flinging their riders free.

Then the sky was filled with the deadly cotton balls, and the
continuous crack of the bursts sent the ponies wheeling and the riders
crouching low on their withers or swinging out of the saddle to hang
low under the bellies of their mounts.  Here and there a braver soul
would kick his feet free of the stirrups and pick up a dismounted
comrade on each of the leathers, the gallant little ponies labouring
under their triple burdens.  Within seconds, the entire Ethiopian army
its single remaining armoured vehicle and all its cavalry were in a
retreat every bit as headlong as that of the motorized Italian column
which was still on its way back to the Wells of Chaldi.  The field was
left entirely to Castelani's artillery and the stranded crew of the

Hump.

From the shelter of the shattered hull, Gareth Swales watched his hopes
of quick rescue fading rapidly in the shape of the dwindling cavalry.

"Don't blame them, not really," he told the Ras, and then he looked
across at the speeding armoured car.  Priscilla the Pig was rapidly
overhauling the cavalry.

"He saw us, - I know he did."  There had "Him I do," he muttered.

been a moment when Priscilla the Pig had passed within a quarter of a
mile of them, had in fact turned directly towards them for a few
moments.  "Do you know something, Rassey old fellow, I do believe we
are being set up for a couple of Patsys."  He glanced at the Ras, who
lay beside him like an old hunting dog that has been worked too hard;

his chest laboured like a blacksmith's bellows, and his breathing
whistled shrilly in his throat.

"Better take those choppers out of your mouth, old chap or else you're
going to swallow them.  The fighting's over for the day.  Take it nice
and easy now.  We've got a long walk home tonight."  And Gareth

Swales transferred all his attention back to the disappearing car.

"Big-hearted Jake Barton is leaving us here and going home to spoon up
the honey.  Who was the chap that David pulled the same trick on?  Come
on, Rassey, you are the Old Testament expert wasn't it

Uriah the Hittite?"  He shook his head sadly.  Gareth was already ready
to believe the worst.  "I take it very much amiss, Rassey, I can tell
you.

Probably have done exactly the same myself, mind you but I do take it
amiss gaming from a fine upright citizen like Jake Barton."  The Ras
had not listened to a word of it.  He was the only man in the two
armies for whom the battle had not ended.

He was just having a short rest, as behave a warrior of his advanced
years.  Now, with a single bound, he was on his feet again,

snatching up his sword and heading directly for the centre of the

Italian batteries.  Gareth was taken completely off balance, and the

Ras had covered fifty yards of the necessary two thousand to the enemy
positions before Gareth could overtake him.

It was unfortunate that one of the Italian gun-layers had his
binoculars focused on the derelict hull of the Hump at that moment.

The belligerence of the Italian gunners was in inverse proportion to
the number and proximity of the enemy and all of them were giddy with
elation at the total and unexpected victory that had dropped into their
laps.

The first shell dropped close beside the broken hull of the Hump,

as Gareth caught up with the Ras.  Gareth stooped and picked up a
rounded stone, about the size of a cricket ball.

"Frightfully sorry, old chap," he panted, as he cupped the stone in his
right hand.  "But we really can't go on like this."  He made allowance
for the brittle old bone of the Ras's skull, and with the stone he
tapped him carefully, almost tenderly, above the ear, on the polished
black bald curve of the Ras's pate.

As the Ras dropped, Gareth caught him, one arm under his knees and the
other around the shoulders, as though he was a sleeping child.  The
shells were falling heavily about him as Gareth ran back for cover,
carrying the Ras's unconscious form across his chest.

Jake Barton heard the crumping explosion of the shells, and shouted up
at Gregorius, "What are they shooting at now?"  Gregorius climbed
higher out of the turret and peered back.  The crushed hull of the Hump
would have been unnoticed at that range, just another speck like a
clump of camel-thorn or an amorphous pile of black rock.

Indeed, both men had looked at it fifty times in the last few minutes
without recognizing it, but the shell bursts, which began to leap about
it in fleeting graceful ostrich feathers of dust and smoke, drew

Gregorius's eye immediately.

"My grandfather!"  he cried .  anxiously.  "They have been hit, Jake."
Jake swung the car and halted it, clambering out of the hatch, blowing
dust from the lens of his binoculars and then focusing them.  The
picture of the destroyed car leaped into close-up and he recognized
instantly the two distant figures, one in tailored tweeds, the other in
flowing robes and swirling skirts; the two of them were locked together
breast to breast and for an unbelieving moment

Jake thought they were doing a Strauss waltz in the midst of an
artillery barrage.  Then he saw Gareth lift the Ras off the ground and
stagger with him to the shelter of the overturned car.

"We must rescue them, Jake," Gregorius exclaimed passionately.

"They will be killed out there, if we do not."  Perhaps it was the
telepathic transfer of Gareth Swales's suspicions, but Jake experienced
the sudden guilty prick of temptation.  At that moment he knew he
loved

Vicky Camberwell, and there was an easy way to clear the field.

"Jake!"  Gregorius called again, and suddenly Jake felt himself so
sickened by his own treacherous thoughts that there was a hollow
nauseous feeling in the centre of his gut, and he felt the swift flow
of saliva from under his tongue.

"Let's go," he said, and dropped down into the driver's hatch.  He
swung Priscilla the Pig in a tight skidding turn and ran straight for
the forest of shell-bursts.

They drew no fire, the Italians were concentrating on the stationary
target and they seemed to be making better practice as they figured the
range.  It was a matter of seconds before the Hump took a direct hit,
and Jake pressed the throttle flat to the floorboards, but Priscilla
the Pig chose this moment to show her true nature.  He felt her baulk,
and the note of her engine changed momentarily, missing and stuttering,
power falling off then suddenly she picked up again and roared onwards
at full power.

"Good little darling.  "Jake peered ahead through the visor, and swung
slightly out to the left, to come in under cover of the Italians"

own shell-bursts and the capsized hull of the Hump.

A shell burst directly ahead, and Jake weaved the big car expertly
around the gaping smoking crater, pulled in sharply and spun around to
a sliding halt, facing back the way he had come, ready for a quick
pull-away.  He was hard up under cover of the destroyed hull, partially
screened from the Italians, and ten paces from where Gareth Swales was
sitting holding the Ras's frail body on his lap.

"Gary!"  yelled Jake, sticking his head out of the hatch, and

Gareth looked up at him with a startled unbelieving expression.  He had
been so deafened by shell-bursts that he had not realized that Jake had
come back for him.  Jake had to shout again.

"Come on, damn you to hell," and this time Gareth moved with alacrity.
He picked up the Ras like a bundle of dirty laundry and ran with him to
the car.  A shell burst so close that it almost knocked him off his
feet, and stones and clouds of earth splattered against the armoured
steel.

However, Gareth kept his feet and handed up the Ras to the willing
hands and loving care of his grandson.

"Is he all right?"  Greg demanded anxiously.

"Hit by a stone, he'll be all right," Gareth grunted, and leaned for an
instant against the side of the car, his breathing sobbing painfully in
his throat, his hair and mustache thick with white dust,

and the sweat cutting deep wet runners down his filth-caked cheeks.

He looked up at Jake.  "I thought you weren't coming back," he
croaked.

"It crossed my mind."  Jake reached down and took his hand.  He boosted
him up the side of the car, and Gareth held his hand for a second
longer than was necessary, squeezing slightly.

owe you one, old son."

"I'll call on you, "Jake grinned.

"Any time.  Any time at all."  At that moment, Priscilla the Pig roared
heroically, then abruptly backfired in opposition to the Italian
shell-bursts.

Her engine spluttered, surged, farted despairingly, and then fell
silent.  "Oh, you son of a bitch!"  said Jake with great and passionate
feeling."

"Not now!"

"Reminds me of a girl I knew in Australia,-"

Later, "Jake told him.  "Get on the crank handle."

"My pleasure, old boy," and a near miss burst beside them and knocked
him off his precarious perch on the sponson.

Gareth picked himself up and dusted his lapels fastidiously as he
limped to the crank handle.

After a full minute at the handle, spinning it like a demented
organ-grinder with no effect at all, Gareth fell back panting again.

"I say, old chap, I'm a bit bushed," and they changed places quickly.

Jake stooped over the crank handle, ignoring the tempest of bursting
shells and swirling dust clouds, and the thick muscles in his arm
writhed as he spun the crank.

"She's dead, Gareth shouted after another minute.  Jake persevered, his
face turning darkly red and the veins in his throat swelling into thick
blue cords but at last even he released the handle with disgust and
stepped back gasping.

"The tool kit is under the seat, "he said.

"You aren't going to do your handyman act here and now?"

Incredulously Gareth made a wide gesture that took in the bloody
battlefield, the Italian guns and the bursting shells.

"You've got a better idea?"  Jake asked brusquely, and Gareth looked
about him forlornly, suddenly straightening his slumping shoulders, the
droop of his mouth lifting into that eternally jaunty grin.

"Funny you should risk, old son.  It just so happens-" and like a
conjurer he indicated the apparition that appeared suddenly out of the
curtains of leaping dust and fuming cordite.

Miss Wobbly slammed to a dead stop beside them and both hatches flew
open.  Sara's dark head appeared in one and Vicky's golden one in the
other.

Vicky leaned across towards Jake, cupping her hands to her mouth as she
shouted in the storm of shellfire, "What's wrong with

Priscilla?"  And Jake gasped, still red-faced and sweating.  "She's
thrown one of her fits."

"Grab the tow rope," Vicky instructed.  "We'll pull you out."  The
Ethiopian camp swarmed with victorious swaggering warriors; their
laughter was loud and their voices boastful.  Admiring womenfolk, who
watched them from the cooking fires, were preparing the night's feast.
The big, black iron pots bubbled with a dozen varieties of wat, and the
smell of spices and meat lay heavily on the evening cool.

Vicky Camberwell bent over her typewriter, seated under the flap of her
tent, and her long supple fingers flew at the keys as the words tumbled
from her describing the courage and fighting qualities of a people who,
armed only with sword and horse, had routed a modern army equipped with
all the most fearsome weapons of war.  When she was in literary flight,
Vicky sometimes overlooked small details that might detract from the
dramatic impact of her story the fact that the biblical warriors of
Ethiopia had been supported by armoured cars and

Vickers machine guns were details of this type, and she ignored them as
she ended, "But how much longer can these proud, simple and gallant
people continue to fight off the greedy lusting hordes of a modern

Caesar intent on Empire?  A miracle happened here today on the plains
of Danakil, but the age of miracles is passing and it is clear even to
those who have thrown in their lot with this fair land of Ethiopia that
she is doomed unless the sleeping conscience of a civilized world is
aroused, unless the voice of justice rings out clearly, calling to the
tyrant Hands off, Benito Mussolini!"

"That's wonderful, Miss

Camberwell," said Sara, leaning over to read the last words as they
tapped out on the roller of the machine.  "It makes me want to cry,

it's so sad and "I'm glad you like it, Sara.  I wish you were my
editor."  Vicky stripped the page from the machine and checked it
swiftly, crossing out a word and inking in another before she was
satisfied, and she folded the despatch into a thick brown envelope and
licked the flap.

"Are you sure he is reliable?"  she asked Sara.

"Oh, yes, Miss Camberwell, he is one of my father's best men."

Sara took the envelope and handed it to the warrior who had been
waiting an hour outside the tent, squatting at the head of his saddled
horse.

Sara spoke to him with great fire and passion, and the man nodded
vehemently as she exhorted him and then flung himself into the saddle
and dashed away towards the darkening mouth of the gorge, where the
smoky blue shadows of evening were enfolding the harsh cliffs and
jagged peaks of the mountains.

"He will be at Sardi before midnight.  I have told him not to pause
along the way.  Your message will go on to the telegraph at dawn
tomorrow morning."

"Thank you, Sara dear."  Vicky rose from the camp table and as she
covered her typewriter, Sara eyed her speculatively.

Vicky had bathed and changed into the one good dress she had brought
with her, a light Irish linen in a pale blue, cut with a fashionably
low waist and skirt that covered her knees but displayed rounded calves
and the narrow delicately shaped ankles which gleamed in their sheaths
of fine silk stockings.

"Your dress is pretty," said Sara softly, "and your hair is so soft and
yellow."  She sighed.  "I wish I were beautiful like you are.

I wish I had a lovely white skin like you."

"And I wish I had a beautiful golden skin like yours," Vicky countered
swiftly, and they laughed together.

"Are you dressed like that for Gareth?  He will love you very much when
he sees you.  Let us go and find him."

"I've got a better idea,

Sara.  why don't you go and find Gregorius.  I am sure he is looking
for you."  Sara thought about that for a moment, torn between duty and
pleasure.

"Are you certain you'll be all right on your own, Miss

Camberwell?"

"Oh, I think so thank you, Sara.  If I get into trouble

I'll call you."

"I'll come right away," Sara assured her.

Vicky knew exactly where she would find Jake Barton, and she came up
silently beside the tall steel hull and watched for a while as he
worked, completely absorbed and totally oblivious of her presence.

She wondered how she had been so blind as not to have seen him properly
before, not to have seen beneath the boyish freshness the strength and
quiet assurance of a full mature man.  It was an ageless face, and she
knew that even when he was an old man the illusion of youth and
freshness would remain with him.  Yet there was an intensity in the
eyes, a steely purpose in the heavy line of the jaw that she had never
noticed before.  She remembered the dream of his that he had told her
the factory building his own engine and in a clairvoyant flash she knew
that he had the determination and the strength to make it become
reality.  Suddenly she longed to share it with him, and knew that their
two dreams could be placed together, his engine and her book, they
could be created together, each gathering strength from the other,

pooling their determination and their creative reserves.  it would be
worth while to share both dreams with a man like Jake Barton.

"Perhaps being in love allows one to see more clearly," she thought, as
she watched him with secret pleasure.  "Or perhaps it simply makes it
easy to kid yourself," and she felt annoyance that her natural cynicism
should overtake her now.

"No," she decided.  "It's not make believe.  He is strong and good and
he'll stay that way," and immediately she thought that perhaps she was
trying too hard to convince herself.

Unbidden, the memory of the night she had spent so recently with
another man flooded back to her, and for a moment she found herself
confused and uncertain.  She tried to thrust the memory firmly aside,

but it nagged at her, and she found herself comparing two men,

remembering the wanton and wicked delights she had known,-and doubting
wistfully that she might ever recapture them.

Then she looked closer at the man she thought she loved, and saw that
although his arms were thick and dark with hair, and his hands were
large and heavy-knuckled, yet the thick spatulate fiLigers worked with
an almost sensuous skill and lightness, and she tried to imagine them
moving on her skin and the image was so clear and voluptuous that she
shuddered and drew in her breath sharply.

Immediately Jake looked up at her, the surprise in his eyes changing
instantly to pleasure, and that slow warm smile spreading over his face
as he ran his eyes swiftly from the top of her silken head down to the
silken ankles.

"Hello, haven't I met you somewhere before?"  he asked, and she laughed
and pirouetted, flaring the dress.

"Do you like it?"  she asked.  He nodded silently and then asked,

"Are we going somewhere special?"

"The Ras's feast, didn't you know?"

not sure I can stan another of his feasts, don't know which is more
dangerous an Italian attack or that liquid dynamite he serves."

"You'll have to be there you're one of the heroes of the great victory,
and Jake grunted and returned his attention to Priscilla the Pig's
internal processes.

"Have you found the trouble?"

"No."  Jake sighed with resignation.

"I've taken her to pieces and put her together again and I can't find a
thing."  He stood back, shaking his head and wiping his greasy hands on
a wad of cotton waste.  "I don't know.  I just don't know."

"Have you tried starting her again?"

"No point in that not until I find and cure the trouble."

"Try,"said Vicky, and he grinned at her.

"It's no use but to humour you."  He stooped to the crank handle,

and Priscilla fired at the first swing, caught and ran smoothly,

purring like a great hump-backed cat in front of the fire.

"My God."  Jake stepped back and stared in amazement.

"There's just no logic to it."

"She's a lady," Vicky explained.

"You know that and there isn't necessarily logic in the way a lady
behaves."  He turned to face her directly and grinned at her, such a
knowing expression in his eyes that she felt herself flushing.

"I'm beginning to find that out," he said, and stepped towards her, but
she raised both hands protectively.

"You'll put grease on this dress-"

"If I were to bath first?"

"Bath," she ordered.  "And then we'll talk again, mister."

In the last few minutes of daylight, a rider had come down the gorge,
clattering and sliding on the rough footing, and then hitting the level
ground and galloping into the Ras's camp on a blown and lathered
horse.

Sara Sagud took the message he carried, came flying up to the cluster
of tents under the flat-topped camel-thorn trees and burst into

Vicky Camberwell's tent waving the folded cablegram, without dreaming
of announcing her entrance.

Vicky was deep in a bearlike enfolding embrace into which Jake

Barton had taken her moments before, and the interruption came just
as

Vicky was abandoning herself to the pleasure of the moment.  Jake
towered over her, freshly scrubbed and smelling of carbolic soap, with
his hair still wet and newly combed.  Vicky broke out of his arms and
turned furiously to the girl.

"Oh!"  exclaimed Sara, with the natural interest and fascination of a
born conspirator discovering a fresh intrigue.

"You are busy."

"Yes, I am, "snapped Vicky, cheeks aflame with embarrassment and
confusion.

"I'm sorry, Miss Camberwell.  But I thought this message must be
important-" and Vicky's irritation faded, as she saw the cablegram.

"I

thought you would want it."  Vicky snatched it from her, broke the seal
and read avidly.  Her anger faded as she read, and she looked up with
shining eyes at Sara.

"You were right thank you, my dear," and she spun back to Jake,

dancing up to him and flinging both arms around his neck, laughing and
gay.

"Hey," Jake laughed with her, holding her awkwardly in front of the
girl, "What's this all about?"

"It's from my editor," she told him.

"My story about the attack at the Wells was an international scoop.

Headlines around the world and there is to be an emergency session of
the League of Nations."  Sara snatched the cable form back from her,
and read it as though by right.

"This is what my father believed you could do for us, Miss

Camberwell for our land and our people."  Sara was weeping, fat oily
tears breaking from the dark gazelle eyes and clinging in her long
lashes.  "Now the world knows.  Now they will come to save us from the
tyranny."  The girl's faith in the triumph of good over evil was
childlike, and she pulled Vicky from Jake's arms and embraced her
instead.

"Oh, you have given us a chance again.  We will always be grateful to
you."  Her tears smeared Vicky's cheek, and she drew back, sniffing
wetly, and wiped her own tears from Vicky's face with the palm of her
hand.  "We will never forget you," she said, and then smiled through
the tears.  "We must go and tell my grandfather."  They found it
impossible to convey to the Ras the exact nature of this new
advancement of the Ethiopian cause.  He was very hazy in his exact
understanding of the role and importance of the League of Nations, or
the power and influence of the international press.  After the first
few pints of tej he had made sure in his own mind that in some
miraculous fashion the great Queen of England had espoused their
cause,

and that the armies of Great Britain would soon join him in the
field.

Both Gregorius and Sara spoke to him at great length, trying to explain
his error, and he nodded and grinned benevolently at them but remained
completely unshaken in his conviction, and ended by embracing Gareth

Swales, making a long rambling speech in Amharic, hailing him as an

Englishman and a comrade in arms.  Then, before the speech ended, the

Ras fell suddenly and dramatically asleep in mid-sentence, falling face
forward into a large bowl of mutton wat.  The day's battle, the
excitement of learning of his new and powerful ally, and the large
quantities of tej were too much for him, and four of his bodyguard
lifted him from the bowl and carried him snoring loudly to his
household tent.

"Do not worry," Sara told his guests.  "My grandfather will not be gone
for long after a small rest he will return."

"Tell him not to put himself out," murmured Gareth Swales.  "I for one
have seen about enough of him for one day."  The glow of the bonfires
turned the sky ruddy and paled the moon that sailed above the mountain
peaks.  It shone on the steel and polished wood of the huge pile of
captured weapons, rifles and pistols and ammunition bandoliers, that
were heaped triumphantly in the open space before the royal party.

The sparks from the fires rose straight upwards into the still night
and the laughter and voices of the guests became more unrestrained as
the tej gourds circulated.

Farther along the valley, also within the acacia grove, the Gallas of
Ras Kullah were celebrating the victory also, and there was the
occasional faint outburst of drunken shouts and a fusillade of shots
from captured Italian rifles.

Vicky sat between Gareth and Jake.  She had not arranged it so,

and if given the choice would have sat alone with Jake, but Gareth

Swales had not been as easily discouraged as she had believed he
might.

Sara came from her place beside Gregorius.  Crossing the squatting
circle of feasting guests, she knelt on the pile of leather cushions
beside Vicky, pushing herself in between Gareth and the girl and she
leaned close to Vicky, an arm around her shoulder and her lips touching
her ear.

"You should have told me," she accused her sadly.  "I did not know that
you had decided on Jake first.  I would have advised you-" At that
instant a sound carried from the camp of the tance and Gallas to where
they sat.  It was muted by ths almost obscured by the closer hubbub of
the feasting Harari filling yet the terrible heart-stopping quality of
it pierced Vicky so that she gasped and clutched Sara's wrist.

Beside her Jake and Gareth had stiffened and were listening also,

their heads turned to catch the sound that rose and died in a
long-drawn-out rending sob.

"You have not handled them correctly, Miss Camberwell."  Sara went on
speaking as if she had heard nothing.

"Sara, what is it what was that?"  Vicky shook her arm urgently.

"Ah!"  Sara made a gesture of disdain and contempt.  "That fat pervert
Ras Kullah has come down from his hiding-place.

the victory, he has come to enjoy Now that we have won the booty.

He arrived an hour ago with his fat milch cows and now he feasts and
entertains himself."  The sound came again.  It was inhuman, a terrible
high pitched screech that tore across Vicky's nerves.  It rose higher
and higher, until Vicky wanted to cover her ears with both hands.  At
the instant that it seemed her nerves must snap, the sound was cut off
abruptly.

A listening silence had fallen upon the revelling throng around the
bonfires, and the silence persisted for a few then there was a seconds
longer after the scream had ended, murmur of comment and here and there
a burst of careless, cruel laughter.

"What is it, damn it, Sara, what are they doing?"

"Ras Kullah is playing with the Italians," Sara said quietly, and Vicky
realized that she had thought no further of the prisoners taken that
day from the routed Italian column.

"Playing, Sara?  What do you mean?"  And Sara spat like an angry cat, a
gesture of utter disgust.

"They are animals, those beasts of Ras Kullah.  They will make sport of
them all night, and in the morning they will cut away their man's
things," she spat again.  "Before they can marry, they must take a
man's things what do you call them, the two things in the little
sac?"

"Testicles," said Vicky hoarsely, almost choking on the word.

"Yes," agreed Sara.  "They must kill a man and take his testicles to
the bride.  It is their custom, but first they will make sport with the
Italians."

"Can't we stop them?  "Vicky asked.

"Stop them?"  Sara looked amazed.  "They are only Italians, and it is
the Galla custom."  Again came that cry, and again there was complete
silence from the revellers.  It climbed high into the silent desert
air, shriek upon shriek, so that it seemed impossible that it could
come from a human lung, and their souls cringed at the dimensions of
suffering which could give vent to that pinnacle of agonized sound.

"Oh God!  Oh God!"  whispered Vicky, and she lifted her eyes from

Sara's face to that of Gareth Swales who sat beyond her.

He was silent and still, his face turned half away from her, so that
she saw the godlike profile, perfect and cold.  As the cry of agony
died away, he leaned forward, took a burning twig from the fire and lit
the long black cheroot between his white teeth.

He drew deeply and held the smoke, then let it trickle out through his
nostrils.  Then he turned deliberately to Vicky.

"You heard what the lady said.  It's the custom."  He spoke to

Vicky, but the remark was addressed to Jake Barton, and his eyes
flicked mockingly to him, a half-smile on his lips.

The two men held each other's eyes, unblinking and expressionless.

The cry of agony came again but this time weaker, the aching ringing
tone reduced to a sobbing echo on the dark night.

Jake Barton rose to his feet, coming erect with one fluid movement, and
in a continuation of the same movement he crossed to the piles of
captured Italian weapons.  He stooped and picked up an officer's
automatic pistol, a 7 men.  Beretta, still in its polished leather
holster, and he unbuckled the flap and drew the weapon,

discarding the leather holster and waist belt.  He checked the loaded
magazine and then, with a slap of his palm, thrust it back into the
recessed butt, pumped the slide to throw a round into the breech,

flicked the safety-catch across and slipped the pistol into the pocket
of his breeches.

Without looking again at any of the others, he strode away,

disappearing beyond the firelight into the darkness, in the direction
of the Galla encampment.

"I told him a long time ago that sentimentality is an oldfashioned
luxury an expensive one in this age, and especially in this place,"

murmured Gareth, and inspected the ash of his cheroot.

"They will kill him if he goes in there alone," said Sara in a
completely matter-of-fact tone.  "They will be hungry for more blood
and they'll kill him "Oh, I don't know it's as bad as that, "Gareth
demurred.

"Oh, yes.  They'll kill him," said Sara, and turned back to Vicky.

"Are you going to let him go?  They are only Italians," she pointed
out.  For a moment, the two women stared at each other, and then Vicky
leaped to her feet and went after Jake, the blue linen swirling
gracefully around her legs and the firelight playing like liquid bronze
gold on her hair as she ran.

She caught up with Jake at the perimeter of the Galla encampment,

and she fell in beside him, taking two quick steps to each of his
strides.

"Go back," he said softly, but she did not reply and skipped to keep up
with him.

"Do what I say."

"No, I'm coming with you."  He stopped and swung to face her, and she
lifted her chin defiantly, throwing back her shoulders and drawing
herself up to her full height so that she came to his shoulder.

Listen to me " he began, and then stopped as the tortured being cried
again in the night, and it was a blubbering incoherent sound,

half moan, half sob followed almost immediately by the throaty roar of
many hundred voices, the blood roar of a hunting pack, deep and
savage.

"That's what it will be like."  His head was turned away from her to
listen and his eyes were haunted.

"I'm coming," she said stubbornly, and he did not reply, but broke away
and hurried forward towards the glowing reflection of the Galla fires
which turned the branches of the camel-thorns to high cathedral roofs
of ruddy light over the encampment.

There were no sentries posted, and they passed unnoticed through the
horse lines and the hastily thatched tukuLs and leather tents,

coming suddenly into the centre of the camp where the fires were
burning and the Gallas were assembled, a huge dark circle of squatting
figures; the firelight bronzed their eager hawk features, and the whole
assembly hummed with the charged tension that always holds the
spectators at a blood spectacle.  Jake remembered it from a prize fight
in Madison Square Garden and again from a cock fight in Havana.

The blood lust was running high, and they growled like an animal
pack.

"That is Ras Kullah, whispered Vicky, tugging at Jake's sleeve,

and he glanced across the open arena of beaten earth.

Kullah sat on a pile of carpets and cushions, a silk shawl striped in a
dozen brilliant colours was draped across his head and shoulders,

masking his soft smooth face with shadow but the firelight caught his
eyes and made them glitter with a peculiarly feverish fury.

One of his fat ivory-coloured hands was clenched in his lap, while his
other arm was cast around the waist of the woman who sat beside him,

and his hand kneaded and Wworled her yielding flesh.  The hand seemed
to have life of its own, and it moved, pale and obscene, like a huge
slug pulsing softly as it devoured the swollen ripe fruits of the
woman's bosom.

Beyond the fires, on the far side of the circle of open earth a group
of three Italian soldiers were clustered fearfully, their faces shiny
white with sweat and terror in the firelight, and their hands bound
behind their backs.  They had been stripped to their breeches,

and the exposed skin of their backs and arms was welted and bruised
where they had been beaten and abused.  Their naked feet were swollen
and bloody; clearly they had been forced to march thus for long
distances across the harsh stony earth.  Their dark eyes, huge with
horror, were fastened on the spectacle that was being enacted on the
open stage of bare earth in the limelight of the fires.

Vicky recognized the woman as one of Ras Kullah's favourites whom she
had last seen that night at the rest house of Sardi.  Now she knelt,
heavy-breasted and intent on her work.  The round madonna face was
alight with an almost religious ecstasy, the full lips parted and the
dark sloe eyes glowing like those of a priestess at some mystic tire.

However, more prosaically the sleeves of her sham ma were drawn up in
businesslike fashion above the elbows like those of a butcher, and her
hands were bloody to the wrists.  She held the thin curved dagger like
a surgeon, and its silver blade was dull and red in the firelight.

The thing over which -she worked still wriggled and moved convulsively
against its bonds, still breathed and sobbed, but it was no longer
recognizable as a man.  The knife had stripped away all resemblance and
now as the waiting crowd growled and swayed and sighed, the woman
worked doggedly at the base of the disembowelled belly, cutting and
tugging, so that the victim screamed again, but feebly and the woman
leapt to her feet and held aloft the mutilated handful she had cut
free.

She did a triumphant circuit of the arena, holding her prize high,

laughing, dancing on shuffling swaying feet, and the blood trickled
down her raised forearm and dripped from the crook of her elbow.

"Stay close," Jake said softly, but Vicky had never heard that tone in
his voice before.  She tore her horrified gaze from the spectacle, and
saw that his face was stern and drawn, his jaw clenched hard and his
eyes terrible.

He drew the pistol from his pocket, and held it against his thigh,

his arm hanging loosely at his side, and he moved swiftly, thrusting
his way through the press of bodies with such strength that he cleared
a path for her to follow him.

Every single Galla was concentrating with all his attention on the
dancing woman, and Jake reached Ras Kullah before any of them realized
his presence.

Jake took the soft thick upper arm in his left hand, his fingers
digging deeply into the putty-soft flesh, and he jerked him to his feet
and held him dangling off-balance, swinging him face to face, and he
pressed the muzzle of the Beretta into his upper lip, just under the
wide nostrils.

They stared at each other, Ras Kullah cringing away from Jake's blazing
eyes, and then whimpering at the pain of the fingers cutting into his
flesh and fear of the steel muzzle bruising his upper lip.

Jake assembled the few words of Amharic he had learned from

Gregorius.

"The Italians," he said softly.  "For me."  Ras Kullah stared at him,
seeming not to hear then he said one word and the men nearest them
swayed forward, as though to intervene.

Jake screwed the muzzle of the pistol into Ras Kullah's lip,

twisting and smearing the soft flesh against his teeth so that the skin
tore and blood sprang swiftly.

"You die," said Jake, and the man shrilled a denial to his warriors.
They drew back reluctantly, fingering their knives and watching with
smouldering eyes for their opportunity.

The woman with the bloody hands sank to her haunches and a great
waiting silence gripped the assembly.  They squatted in complete
stillness, all their faces turned towards Jake and Ras Kullah.  In the
silence, the broken bleeding thing beside the fire cried out again, a
long-drawn-out breathy sound that tore at jake's nerves and made his
expression ferocious.

"Tell your men," he said, his voice thick and grating with his anger.
Ras Kullah's voice quavered, high as a young girl, and the warriors who
guarded the three half-naked prisoners shuffled uncertainly and
exchanged glances.

Jake ground the steel fiercely into Ras Kullah's face, and his voice
squeaked urgently as he repeated the order.

Reluctantly, the guards prodded the prisoners forward in a forlorn
terrified group.

"Take his dagger," Jake said quietly to Vicky, without removing his
gaze from Ras Kullah's eyes.  Vicky stepped close beside the Ras and
gripped the hilt of the weapon on the embroidered belt around his
sagging paunch.  It was worked in beaten gold and set with crudely cut
amethysts, but the blade was brilliant and the edge keen.

"Cut them loose," said Jake, and in the dangerous moments while she was
away from his side, he increased the brutal pressure on the pistol
barrel.  Ras Kullah stood with his head cocked at an impossible angle,
the lips drawn back from his teeth in a fixed snarl and his eyes
rolling in their sockets until the whites showed, and the tears of pain
poured freely down his cheeks, glinting in the firelight like dew on
the yellow petals of a rose.

Vicky cut the rawhide bindings at the Italians" wrists and elbows,

and they massaged the circulation back into their arms, huddling
together, their pale faces still smeared with dirt and dried blood and
their eyes terrified and ... uncomprehending.

Quickly, Vicky crossed back to Jake and stood close beside him.

Somehow there was safety and security when she was near to him.  She
stayed beside him as Jake forced Ras Kullah, step by step, across the
open ground to where the maimed, half-destroyed thing still moved
weakly and drew each agonized breath of air with a bubbling sigh.

Jake stooped slightly away from Ras Kullah, but still holding him,

and Vicky saw the compassion alter the fierce expression in his eyes
for a moment, She did not realize what he was going to do until he
dropped the pistol from Ras Kullah's face, and extended his arm at full
stretch.

The crack of the pistol was sharp and cutting in the stillness,

and the bullet hit the mutilated Italian in the centre of his
forehead,

leavin a dark blue hole in the gleaming "9 white skin of the brow.  His
eyelids fluttered like the wings of a dying dove, and the arched
straining body sagged and relaxed.  A long gusty sigh came up the
tortured throat, the sigh a man might make at the very edge of sleep
and then he was still.

Without another look at the man to whom he had given peace, Jake lifted
the pistol to Ras Kullah's face again, and with fresh pressure on his
arm he forced him to turn and walk slowly back.

With a curt inclination of the head, he signalled the three

Italians to move.  They went first, moving slowly, still shrinking
together, then Vicky followed them, one hand for comfort reaching back
to touch Jake's shoulder.  Jake held Ras Kullah twisted off balance,

and forced him step by step onwards.  He knew they must not hurry, must
not Show weakness, for the flimsy bonds which held the Gallas frozen
would snap at the least strain, and they would be upon them down under
them in a pack, bearing the press of bodies, and hacking and tearing
them to pieces.

Pace after slow steady pace, they moved forward.  Time and again their
way was blocked by sullen groups of tall dark Gallas, who stood
shoulder to shoulder fingering their weapons, then Jake twisted the
muzzle of the pistol into Ras Kullah's soft skin.  The man cried out
and reluctantly the way opened, the dark warriors moving aside just
sufficiently to let them pass, and then falling in behind them and
following closely, so closely the leaders were always within arm's
length.

Once they were clear of the pack, Jake could increase the pace and he
moved steadily up the path through the camel-thorn, shepherding the
terrified Italians ahead of him and dragging Ras Kullah bodily along.

"What are we going to do with them?"  Vicky asked breathlessly.

"We can't keep Kullah at gun point much longer."  Jake did not
answer;

he did not want the closely following Gallas to hear the uncertainty in
his voice, yet he didn't want the girl to show signs of fear.

She was right, of course, the Gallas followed them now with an
implacable malevolence, pressing closely in an avenging throng that
filled the darkness.

the cars-" said Jake, as inspiration came to him.  "Get them into one
of the cars."

"And then?"

"One thing at a time," growled Jake.

"Let's get them into the car first."  And they moved steadily up the
path, the Gallas pressing them more closely.  One of the tall cloaked
figures jostled Jake roughly, trying him, beginning to push harder,
and

Jake moved smoothly, swinging his weight across and swivelling a
quarter of a turn.  It was so swift that the Galla could not avoid the
blow; even if he had seen it, he was hemmed in and constrained by the
press of his comrades" bodies.

Jake hit him with a forearm chop, and the barrel of the pistol caught
him in the mouth, snapping off his front teeth cleanly from the upper
gum, and the shock of the blow was transferred directly through the
frontal sinuses to the brain.

The man dropped without a sound and was immediately hidden from view by
the men who stumbled over him as they followed.  But they did not press
so hard now, and Jake switched the pistol back to Ras

Kullah's head.  The entire incident was over before Kullah could cry
out or squirm in the punishing grip that had bruised and twisted his
upper arm.

Jake shifted his grip again, forcing the man farther off balance,

and hustled him on more urgently.  Ahead of them, through the trees, he
could make out the ugly humped shapes of the cars, silver grey in the
moonlight and silhouetted by the dying ash heaps of the camp fires.

"Vicky, we'll use Miss Wobbly.  I'm not taking a chance on

Priscilla starting first kick," he grated.  "Use the driver's hatch.

Don't worry about anything else but getting behind that wheel."

"What about the prisoners?"

"Do what you're told, don't argue, damn it."  They were within twenty
feet of the car now, and he told her, "Now, go, fast as you can."  She
darted away, reaching the high side of Miss Wobbly before any of the
Gallas could intervene and she went up it with a single agile bound.

"Close down," Jake shouted after her, and felt a quick lift of relief
as the hatch clanged shut.  The ( gal las growled like the wolf-pack
denied its prey and they swarmed forward, pressing hard and surrounding
the car.

Jake fired a single shot in the air, and Ras Kullah screamed a command.
The Gallas drew back fractionally and fell into a sullen silence.

"Vicky, can you hear me?"  Jake called, as he shepherded the

Italian prisoners close in against the hull.

Her voice was muffled and remote from behind the steel plate as she
acknowledged.

"The rear doors," he told her urgently.  "Get them open but not before
I tell you."  He pushed the Italians around towards the rear of the
car, but it was slow work, for they were confused and stupid with
terror.

Now, "Jake shouted and knocked impatiently against the hull with the
pistol.  The lock grated and the doors swung outwards, and came up
against the packed bodies outside.

"Goddamn it," growled Jake, an got his shoulder to one leaf of the
door.  He shoved it open, knocking down two Of the closest Gallas and
in the same movement boosted one of the Italians through the opening
into the dark interior of the car.  In a panicky scramble, the other
two followed him and Jake swung the door closed on them and put his
back flat against it, and heard the bolts shot closed on the inside,

facing the hating dark faces, and the surging press of their hundreds
of bodies.  Voices were raised at the rear of the crowd and violence
was seconds away they had seen most of their prey escape, and it needed
little more to trigger the mob reflex.

Jake found he was panting as though he had run a long way, and his
heart pounded, so that he could feel it jump against his rib cage but
he held Ras Kullah, changing his grip from the pudgy upper arm to the
thick wiry bush of his hair, twining his fingers deeply into the
stiff,

dark halo at the back of his skull and twisting the head so that Ras

Kullah faced his men.  With the other hand Jake thrust the pistol
deeply into the aperture of the man's ear hole

"Speak to them, sweet lips  He made his voice vicious and menacing.
"Otherwise I'm going to push this piece right out through the other
ear."  Ras Kullah understood the tone, if not the words, and he gabbled
out a few hysterical words Of Amharic; the front warriors drew back a
pace and Jake slid slowly along the hull, keeping his back to the steel
and Ras Kullah pinned helplessly by his hair to cover his front.  The
crowd moved with them, keeping station with them, their faces glowering
in the moonlight, cruel and angry, balancing critically on the pinnacle
of violence.  A voice rang out from the darkness, an authoritative
voice urging action, the crowd growled, and Ras Kullah whimpered in
Jake's grip.

The sound of Ras Kullah's terror warned Jake that they would be
frustrated no longer, the moment was upon them.

"Vicky, are you ready to start?"  he called urgently, and her voice was
just audible.

"Ready to start."  He felt the fixed crank handle catch him in the back
of the legs, and at that instant a woman's voice shrilled and echoed
through the grove of camel-thorn trees.  In that heart-stopping
ululation of the blood trill, the invocation to violence that the heart
of the African warrior cannot resist, the sound struck the jostling
press of Gallas like a whip, stroke and their bodies convulsed and
their voices rose in an answering blood roar.

"Oh Jesus, here they come," thought Jake, and put all his strength into
the arm and shoulder that took Ras Kullah between the shoulder blades
and hurled him forward into the front rank of his own men.  He crashed
into them, bringing down half a dozen of them in a sprawling tangle
over which the next rank tumbled and fell.

Jake turned swiftly and stooped to the crank handle.  He had chosen
Miss Wobbly for this moment, knowing that she was the most gentle and
well-intentioned of all the cars.

He would have trembled to put the same trust in Priscilla and as it
was, even she coughed and hesitated at the first swing.

"Please, my darling, please, "Jake pleaded desperately, and at the next
swing of the handle she hacked, choked and fired then suddenly she was
running sweetly.  Jake jumped for the sponson, just as a great
two-handed sword swung down at him from on high.

He heard the hiss of the blade, passing like the flight of a bat in the
darkness, and he ducked under it.  The sword struck the steel hull of
the car and sprayed a fiery burst of sparks, and Jake rolled and fired
the Beretta as the Galla raised the sword to swing again.

He heard the bullet slog into flesh, a meaty thump, and the man
collapsed backwards, the sword spinning from his hand as he went down
but from every direction, robed figures were swarming up the hull of
the car, like safari ants over the carcass of a helpless scarab
beetle,

and the roar of voices was a storm surf of anger.

Drive, Vicky for God's sake, drive," he yelled and slammed the pistol
over the woolly head of a Galla as it rose beside him.  The man fell
away and the engine bellowed, the car bounded forward with a jerk that
threw most of the Gallas from the hull, and Jake was himself thrown
half clear, snatching at one of the welded brackets as he went over and
saving himself from falling into the swarming pack of Gallas but the
pistol dropped out of his hand as he clung grimly to his precarious
hold.

Miss Wobbly, under Vicky's thrusting foot, roared into the thick wall
of men ahead of her and few of them had a chance to avoid her charge.
Their bodies went down before her, thudding against the frontal plate
of the car, their blood roar changing swiftly to yells and shrieks of
consternation as they scattered away into the darkness and the car
burst free of the press and tore on down the slope.

Jake draiwed himself back on board and steadied himself against the
turret, as he rose to his knees.  Beside him a Galla clung like a tick
to the back of an ox, wailing in terror while his sham ma swirled over
his head in the stream of racing air.  Jake put one foot against the
man's raised buttocks and thrust hard.  The man shot head first over
the side of the speeding car, and hit the earth with a crunch that was
audible even above the roaring engine.

Jake crawled back along the heaving, violently rocking hull and with
fist and foot he threw over side one at a time her deck cargo of
terrified Gallas.  Vicky took the car down the slope under full
throttle, weaving wildly through the trees of the grove and at last out
on to the open moonlit plain.

Here at last, by pounding with his fist on the driver's hatch,

Jake managed to arrest Vicky's wild drive, and she braked the car to a
cautious halt.

She came out through the hatch and embraced him with both arms wound
tightly around his neck.  Jake made no attempt to avoid the circle of
her arms, and a silence settled over them disturbed only by their
breathing.  They had both almost forgotten about their prisoners in the
pleasure of the moment, but were reminded by the scuffling and
muttering in the depths of the car.  Slowly they drew apart, and

Vicky's eyes were soft and lustrous in the moonlight.

"The poor things," she whispered.  "You saved them from that-" and
words failed her as she remembered the one they had been too late to
save.

Yes, "Jake agreed.  "But what the hell do we do with them now!"

"We could take them up to the Harari Camp the Ras would treat them
fairly."

"Don't bet money on it."  Jake shook his head.  "They are all

Ethiopians and their rules of the game are different from ours.  I

wouldn't like to take a chance on it."

"Oh Jake, I'm sure he wouldn't allow them to be-, "Anyway," Jake
interrupted, "if we handed them over to the Hararil Ras Kullah would be
there the next minute demanding them back for his fun and if they
didn't agree, we'd all be in the middle of a tribal war.  No, it won't
do."

"We'll have to turn them loose, "said Vicky at last.

"They'd never make it back to the Wells of Chaldi."  Jake looked to the
east, across the brooding midnight plain.  "The ground out there is
crawling with Ethiopian scouts.  They would have their throats slit
before they'd gone a mile."

"We'll have to take them," said Vicky,

and Jake looked sharply at her.

"Take them?"

"In the car drive out to the Wells of Chaldi."

"The

Eyeties would love that," he grunted.  "Have you forgotten those
flaming great cannons of theirs?"

"Under a flag of truce," said Vicky.

"There is no other way, Jake.  Truly there isn't."  Jake thought about
it silently for a full minute and then he -sighed wearily.

"It's a long drive.  Let's get going."  They drove without headlights,
not wanting to attract the attention of the Ethiopian scouts or the
Italians, but the moon was bright enough to light their way and define
the ravines and rougher ground with crisp black shadows,

although occasionally the wheels would crash painfully into one of the
deep round holes dug by the aardvarks, the nocturnal long-nosed beasts
which burrowed for the subterranean colonies of termites.

The three half-naked Italian survivors huddled down in the rear
compartment of the car, so exhausted by fear and the day's adventures
that they passed swiftly into sleep, a sleep so deep that neither the
noisy roar of the engine within the metal hull nor the bouncing over
rough ground could disturb them.  They lay like dead men in an untidy
heap.

Vicky Camberwell climbed down out of the turret to escape the flow of
cool night air, and squeezed into the space beside the driver's seat.
For a while she spoke quietly with Jake, but soon her voice became
drowsy and finally dried up.  Then slowly she toppled sideways against
him, and he smiled tenderly and eased her golden head down on to his
shoulder and held her like that, warm against him in the noisy hull, as
he drove on into the eastern night.

The Italian sentries were sweeping the perimeter of their camp at
regular intervals with a pair of powerful anti-aircraft searchlights,

probably in anticipation of a night attack by the Ethiopians, and the
glow of the beams burned up in a tall white cone of light into the
desert sky.  Jake homed in upon it, gradually reducing his throttle
setting as he closed in.  He knew that the engine beat would carry many
miles in the stillness, but that at lower revs it would be diffused and
impossible to pinpoint.

He guessed he was within two or three miles of the Italian camp when in
confirmation that the sentries had heard his approach, and that after
their recent experiences they were highly sensitive to the sound of a
Bentley engine, a star shell sailed upwards a thousand feet into the
sky and burst with a fierce blue-white light that lit the desert like a
stage for miles beneath it.  Jake hit the brakes hard, and waited for
the shell to sink slowly to earth.  He did not want movement to attract
attention.  The light died away and left the night blacker than before,
but beside him the abrupt change of motion had woken Vicky and she sat
up groggily, pushing the hair out of her eyes and muttering sleepily.

"What is it?"

"We are here," he said, and another star shell rose in a high arc and
burst in brilliance that paled the moon.

"There."  Jake pointed out the ridge above the Wells of Chaldi.

The dark shapes of the Italian vehicles were laagered in orderly
lines,

clearly silhouetted by the star shell.  They hall let were two miles
ahead.  Suddenly there was the distant ripping sound of a machine gun,
a sentry firing at shadows, and immediately after, a scattered
fusillade of rifle shots which petered out into a sheepish silence.

"It seems that everybody is awake, and jumpy as hell," Jake remarked
drily.  "This is about as close as we can go."  He crawled out of the
driver's seat and went back to where the prisoners were still piled
upon each other like a litter of sleeping puppies.  One of them was
snoring like an asthmatic lion, and Jake had to put his boot amongst
them to stir them back to consciousness.  They came awake slowly and
resentfully, and Jake swung open the rear doors and pushed them out
into the darkness.  They stood dejectedly, clasping their naked trunks
against the chill of the night and peering about them fearfully to
discover what new unpleasantness awaited them.  At that instant another
star shell burst almost overhead, and they exclaimed and blinked
owlishly without immediate comprehension as Jake made shooing gestures,
trying to drive them like a flock of chickens towards the ridge.

Finally Jake grabbed one of them by the scruff of the neck,

pointed his face at the ridge and gave him a shove that sent him
tottering the first few paces.  Suddenly the man recognized his own
camp and the lines of big Fiat trucks in the light of the star shell.

He let out a heartfelt cry of relief and broke into a shambling run.

The other two stared for a moment in disbelief and then set out after
him at the top of their speed.  When they had gone twenty yards,

one of them turned back and came to Jake, seized his hand and pumped it
vigorously, a huge smile splitting his face; then he turned to Vicky
and covered both her hands with wet noisy kisses.  The man was
weeping,

tears streaming down his cheeks.

"That's enough of that," growled Jake.  "On your way, friend," and he
turned the Italian and once more pointed him at the horizon and helped
him on his way.

The unaffected joy of the released Italians was contagious.  Jake and
Vicky drove back in a high good mood, laughing together secretly in the
dark and noisy hull of the car.  They had covered half of the forty
miles back to the Sardi Gorge, and behind them the lights of the

Italian camp were a mere suggestion of lesser darkness low on the
eastern horizon, but still their mood was light and joyous and at some
fresh sally of Jake's Vicky leaned across to kiss him on the soft pulse
of his throat beneath his ear.

As if of her own accord, Miss Wobbly's speed bled away and she rocked
to a gentle standstill in the centre of a wide open area of soft sandy
soil and low dark scrub.

Jake earthed the magneto, and the engine note died away into silence.
He turned in the seat and took Vicky fully in his arms,

crushing her to him with sudden strength that made her gasp aloud.

"Jake!"  she protested, half in pain, but his lips covered hers,

and her protests were forgotten at the taste of his mouth.

His jaw and cheeks were rough with new beard, the same strong wiry
growth of dark hair which curled out of his shirt front, and the man
smell of him was like the taste of his mouth.  She felt the softness of
her own body crave the hardness of his and she pressed herself to
him,

finding pleasure in the pain of contact, in the bruising pressure of
his mouth against her lips.

She knew she was arousing emotions that soon would be beyond either of
their control, and the knowledge made her reckless and bold.

The thought occurred to her that she had it in her power to drive him
demented with passion, and the idea aroused her further, and
immediately she wanted to exercise that power.

She heard his breathing roaring in her ears, then realized that it was
not his it was her own, and each gust of it seemed to swell her chest
until it must burst.

It was so cramped in the cockpit of the car, and their movements were
becoming wild and unrestrained.  Vicky felt restricted and itching with
constraint.  She had never known this wildness before, and for a
fleeting instant she remembered the skilful, gentle minuet of formal
movements which had been her loving with Gareth Swales, and she
compared it to this stormy meeting of passions; then the thought was
borne away on the flood, on the need to be free of confinement.

Outside the car, the chill of the desert night prickled the skin of her
back and flanks and thighs, and she felt the fine golden hairs come
erect on her forearms.  He flapped out the bed-roll and spread it on
the earth.  Then he returned to get her, and the heat of his body was a
physical shock.  It seemed to burn with all the pent-up fires of his
soul, and she pressed herself to it with complete abandon, delighting
in the contrast of his burning flesh and the cool desert breeze upon
her bare skin.

Now at last there was nothing to prevent the range of her hands and she
knew they were cold as ghost fingers on him, delighting to hear his
gasp again at their touch.  She laughed then, a hoarse throaty
chuckle.

"Yes."  She laughed again, as he lifted her easily and dropped to his
knees on the bed-roll, holding her against his chest.

"Yes, Jake."  She let the last restraint fly.  "Quickly, quickly my
darling: It was a raging, a roaring of all her senses.  It was an
aching, tumultuous storm that ended at last and afterwards the vast
hissing silence of the desert was so frightening that she clung to him
like a child and found to her amazement that she was weeping.  the
tears scalded her eyes and yet were as icy as the touch of frost upon
her cheeks.

General De Bono's first cautious but ponderous thrust across the

Mareb River, into Ethiopia, met with a success that left him stunned.

Ras Muguletul the Ethiopian commander in the north, offered only token
resistance then withdrew his forty thousand men southwards to the
natural mountain fortress of Ambo Aradam.  Unopposed, De Bono drove the
seventy miles to Adowa and found it deserted.  Triumphantly he erected
the monument to the fallin Italian warriors and thereby expunged the
stain of defeat from the arms of Italy.

The great civilizing mission had begun.  The savage was being tamed,
and introduced to the miracles of modern man amongst them the aerial
bomb.

The Royal Italian Air Force ranged the skies above the towering

Ambas, reporting all troop movements and swooping down to bomb and
machine-gun any concentrations.  The Ethiopian forces were confused and
scattered under their tribal commanders.  There were half a dozen
breaches in their line that a forceful commander could have exploited
indeed even General De Bono sensed this and made another convulsive
leap forward as far as Makale.  However, here he stopped appalled at
his own audacity, stunned by his own achievement.

Ras Muguletu was skulking on Ambo Aradam with his forty thousand,

while Ras Kassa and Ras Seyoum were struggling to move the great
unwieldy masses of their two armies through the mountain passes to link
up with the army of the Emperor on the shores of Lake Tona.

They were disordered, vulnerable, ripe to be cut down like wheat and
General De Bono closed his eyes, covered his brow with one hand and
turned his head aside.

History would never accuse him of recklessness and impetuosity.

ROM GENERAL DE BONO COMMANDER OF THE ITALIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE

AT MA KALE TO BENITO MUSSOLINI PRIME MINISTER OF ITALY HAVING
CAPTURED

ADO WA AND MA KALE I CONSIDER MY IMMEDIATE OBJECTS HAVE BEEN ATTAINED

STOP IT IS NOW VITALLY NECESSARY TO CONSOLIDATE THESE SUCCESSES' TO

FORTIFY MY POSITION AGAINST ENEMY COUNTER ATTACK AND TO SECURE MY

LINES

OF SUPPLY AND COMMUNICATIONS."  ROM BENITO MUSSOLINI PRIME MINISTER

OF

ITALY MINISTER OF WAR TO GENERAL DE BONO OFFICER COMMANDING THE

ITALIAN

EXPEDITIONARY FORCE IN AFRICA HIS MAJESTY WISHES AND I COMMAND YOU TO

ADVANCE WITHOUT HESITATION ON AMBA ARA DAM AND BRING THE MAIN BODY OF

THE ENENMY TO BATTLE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE STOP REPLY TO ME."  ROM

GENERAL DE BONO TO THE PRIME MINISTER OF ITALY GREETINGS AND

FELICITATIONS I WISH TO POINT OUT TO YOUR EXELLENCY THAT THE

OBJECTIVE

AMBA ARA DAM IS TACTICALLY UNDESIRABLE ... THE TERRAIN FAVOURS AMBUSH

CONDITION OF ROADS VERY POOR ... TRUST MY JUDGEMENT ... URGE YOUR

EXCELLENCY TO RECONSIDER AND TO TAKE COGNIZANCE OF THE FACT THAT THE

MILITARY SITUATION MUST TAKE PRECEDENCE OVER ALL POLITICAL

CONSIDERATION."  FROM BENITO MUSSOLINI TO MARSHAL DE BONO PREVIOUSLY

OFFICER COMMANDING THE ITALIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE IN AFRICA HIS

MAJESTY ORDERS ME TO CONVEY HIS FELICITATIONS ON YOUR ELEVATION TO

THE

RANK OF MARSHAL OF THE ARMY AND TO THANK YOU FOR THE IMPECCABLE

EXECUTION OF YOUR DUTY IN RECAPTURING ADO WA STOP WITH THE ATTAINMENT

OF

THIS OBJECTIVE I CONSIDER THAT YOUR MISSION IN EASTERN AFRICA HAS

BEEN

COMPLETED STOP YOU HAVE EARNED THE GRATITUDE OF THE NATION BY YOUR

OBVIOUS MERITS AS A SOLDIER AND YOUR STEADFAST DISCHARGE OF YOUR DUTY

AS A COMMANDER STOP YOU ARE REQUESTED TO HAND OVER YOUR COMMAND TO

GENERAL PIE TRO BADOGLIO ON HIS IMMINENT ARRIVAL IN AFRICA..

Marshal De Bono accepted both his promotion and his recall with such
good grace that it could have been mistaken, by an uninformed observer,
for profound relief.  His departure for Rome was completed with such
despatch as to avoid by a hair's breadth the semblance of indecorous
haste.

General Pietro Badoglio was a fighting soldier.  He had staffed the
headquarters before Adowa, although he had played no part in that
debacle, and he was a veteran of Caporetto and Vittorio Veneto.  He
believed that the purpose of war was to crush the enemy as swiftly and
as ruthlessly as was possible, with the use of any weapon at his
disposal.

He came ashore at Massawa with a furious impatience, angry with
everything he found, and impatient of the policies and concepts of his
predecessor, although in truth seldom had an incoming commander been
handed such an enviable strategic situation.

He inherited a huge, well-equipped army with a buoyant morale, in a
commanding tactical position and backed by a magnificent network of
communications and a logistics inventory that was alpine in
proportions.

The small but magnificently equipped airforce of the expedition was
flying unopposed over the Ambo mountains, observing all troop movements
and pouncing immediately on any Ethiopian concentrations.

During one of the first dinners at the new headquarters, Lieutenant

Vittorio Mussolini, the younger of the Duce's two sons, one of the
dashing Regia Aeronautica aces, regaled his new commander with accounts
of his sorties over the enemy highlands and Badoglio, who had not had
close aerial support in any of his previous campaigns, was delighted
with this new and deadly weapon.  He listened transfixed to the young
flier's descriptions of the effect of aerial bombardment particularly
an account of an attack on a group of three hundred or more enemy
horsemen led by a tall, dark-robed figure.  The young Mussolini told
him, "I released a single hundred-kilo bomb from an altitude of less
than a hundred metres, and it fell precisely in the centre of the
galloping horsemen.  They opened like the petals of a flowering rose,

and the dark-robed leader was thrown so high by the blast that he
seemed to almost touch my wing-tip as I passed.  It was a spectacle of
great beauty and magnificence."  Badoglio was happy that his new
command included young men with such fire in their veins, and he leaned
forward in his seat at the head of the table to peer down over the
glittering silver and sparkling leaded crystal at the flier in his
handsome blue uniform.  The classical features and dark curly head of
hair were the artist's conception of young Mars.  Then he turned to the
airforce

Colonel who sat beside him.

"Colonel, what is the opinion of your young men in the Regia

Aeronautica?  I have heard much argument for and against but I would be
interested to have your opinion.

Should we use the nitrogen mustard?"

"I think I speak for all my young men."  The Colonel sipped his wine
and glanced for confirmation at the young ace who was not yet twenty
years of age.  "I think the answer must be yes, we must use every
weapon available to us."  Badoglio nodded.  The thinking agreed with
his own, and the next morning he ordered the canisters of mustard gas
shipped from the warehouses of

Massawa, where De Bono had been content to let them lie, and despatched
them to every airfield where flights of the Regia Aeronautica were
based.  Thousands upon thousands of the wild tribesmen of Ethiopia
would come to know the corrosive dew when later they endured
bombardment by artillery and aerial attack with a stoicism greater than
most European troops were able to muster yet they could never come to
terms with this terrible substance that turned the open pastures of
their mountain fastness to fields of terror.  Barefoot, as most of them
were, they were pathetically vulnerable to the silent insidious weapon
that flayed the skin from their bodies, and then stripped the living
flesh from the bone.

This single decision was one of many made that day by the new
commander, and signalled the change from De Bono's humbling, but not
unkindly civilizing invasion, to the new concept of total war war with
only one objective.

MUSSOlini had wanted a hawk, and he had chosen well.

The hawk stood in the centre of the lofty second-storey headquarters
office at Asmara, He was too consumed with furious impatience to sit at
the wide desk, and when he paced the tiled floor,

his heels cracked on the ceramic like drum beats.  The elasticity of
his stride was that of a man far younger than sixty-five.

He carried his head low on boxer's shoulders, thrusting his chin
forward a heavy chin below a big shapeless round nose, a short-cropped
grey mustache and a wide hard mouth.

His eyes were deep sunken into dark cavities, like those of a corpse,
but their glitter was alive and aware as he worked swiftly through the
lists of his divisional and regimental commanders,

assessing each by one criterion only, "Is he a fighting man?"  Too
often the answer was "no,", or at the least uncertain, so it was with a
fierce pleasure that he recognized one who was without question a
hard-fighting man on whom he could rely.

"Yes," he nodded vehemently.  "He is the only field commander who has
displayed any initiative, who has made any attempt to come to grips
with the enemy."  He paused to lift his reading glasses to his eyes and
glance again at the reports he held in his other hand.  "He has fought
one decisive action, inflicting almost thirty thousand casualties
without loss himself.  That in itself is an achievement that seems to
have gone without suitable recognition.  The man should have had a
decoration, the order of St.  Maurice and St.  Lazarus at the least.
Good men must be singled out and rewarded.  Look at this this is
typical!

When he was aware that the enemy had armoured resources, he was soldier
enough to lure that armour into a baited trap, to lead it skilfully and
with cool courage on to his entrenched artillery.  It was a bold and
resourceful stroke for an infantry commander to make and it deserved to
succeed.  If only his artillery commander had been a man of equally
steely nerves, he would have succeeded in luring the entire enemy
armoured column to its total destruction.  It was no fault of his that
the artillery lost their nerve and opened fire prematurely."  The

General paused to focus his reading glasses on the large glossy
photographic print which depicted Colonel Count Aldo Belli standing
like a successful big game hunter on the carcass of the Hump.  The
shattered hull was pierced by shot and in the background lay half a
dozen corpses in tattered shammas.  These had been collected from the
battlefield and tastefully arranged by Gino to give the photograph
authenticity.  Against his better judgement and his strong instincts of
survival, Count Aldo Belli had returned to make these photographic
records only after Major Castelani had assured him that the enemy had
deserted the field.  The Count had not wasted too much time about it,

but had his photographs taken, urging Gino to haste, and when it had
been done he had returned swiftly to his fortified position above the

Wells of Chaldi and had not moved from there since.  However, the
photographs were an impressive addendum to his official report of the
action.

Now Badoglic, growled like an angry old lion.  "Despite the
incompetence of his junior officers, and there my heart aches for
him,

this man has wiped out half the enemy armour as well as half the
opposing army."  He hit the report fiercely with his reading glasses.

"The man's a fire eater no question about it.  I know one when I see
one.  A fire-eater.  This kind of example must be encouraged good work
must be rewarded.  Send for him.  Radio him to come in to headquarters
immediately."  As far as Count Aldo Belli was concerned, the campaign
had come upon a not unpleasant hiatus.

The camp at the Wells of Chaldi had been transformed by his engineers
from an outpost of hell into a rather pleasant refuge, with functional
amenities, such as ice making machines and a water-borne sewerage
system.  The de fences were now of sufficient strength to give him a
feeling of security.  The engineering as always was of the highest
quality with extensive covered earthworks, and Castelani had laid out
carefully over-lapping fields of fire, and barbed-wire de fences in
depth.

The hunting in the area was excellent by any standards, with game drawn
to the water in the Wells from miles around.  The sand-grouse in the
evenings filled the heavens with the whistle of their wings, and
wheeled in great dark flocks across the setting sun, affording
magnificent sport.

The bag was measured in grain bags of dead birds.

In the midst of this pleasantly relaxed atmosphere, the new commanding
officer's summons exploded like a 100 kilo aerial bomb.

General Badoglio's reputation had preceded him.  He was a notorious
martinet, a man who could not be sidetracked from single-minded purpose
by excuse or fabrication.  He was insensitive to political influence or
power considerations so much so that it was rumoured that he would have
crushed the very Fascist movement itself with force if the issue had
been put into his hands back in 1922.  He had an almost psychic power
to detect subterfuge, and to place a finger squarely on malingerers or
lack-guts.

They said his justice was swift and merciless.

The shock to the Count's system was considerable.  He had been singled
out from thousands of brother officers to face this ogre's wrath for he
could not convince himself that the small deviations from reality, the
small artistic licences contained in his long,

illustrated reports to De Bono had not been instantly discovered.  He
felt like a guilty schoolboy summoned to dire retribution behind the
closed doors of the headmaster's study.  The shock hit him squarely in
the bowels, always his weak spot, bringing on a fresh onslaught of the
malady first caused by the waters of Chaldi Wells, from which he had
believed himself completely cured.

It was twelve hours before he could summon the strength to be helped by
his concerned underlings into the RollsRoyce and to lie wan and palely
resigned upon the soft leather seat.

"Drive on, Giuseppe," he murmured, like an aristocrat giving the order
to the driver of the tumbril.

On the long hot dusty drive into Asmara, the Count lay without interest
in his surroundings, without even attempting to marshal his defence
against the charges he knew he must soon face.  He was resigned, abject
his only solace was the considerable damage he would do this upstart,
ill bred peasant, once he returned to Rome, as he was certain he was
about to.  He knew that he could ruin the man politically and it gave
him a jot of sour pleasure.

Giuseppe, the driver, knowing his man as he did, made the first stop
outside the casino in Asmara's main street.

Here, at least, Count Aldo Belli was treated as a hero, and he perked
up visibly as the young hostesses rushed out on to the sidewalk to
welcome him.

Some hours later, freshly shaven, his uniform sponged and pressed,

his hair pomaded, and buoyed UP on a fragrant cloud of expensive eau de
cologne, the Count was ready to face his tormentor.  He kissed the
girls, tossed back a last glass of cognac, laughed that gay reckless
laugh, snapped his fingers once to show what he thought of the peasant
who now ran this army, clenched his buttocks tightly together to
control his fear and marched out of the casino into the sunlight and
across the street into the military headquarters.

His appointment to meet General Badoglio was for four o'clock and the
town hall clock struck the hour as he marched resolutely down the long
gloomy corridor, following a young aide-de-camp.  They reached the end
of the corridor and the aide-de-camp threw open the big double mahogany
doors and stood aside for the Count to enter.

His knees felt like boiled macaroni, his stomach gurgled and seethed,
the palms of his hands were hot and moist, and tears were not far
behind his quivering eyelids as he stepped forward into the huge room
with its lofty moulded ceiling.

He saw that it was filled with officers from both the army and the
airforce.  His disgrace was to be made public, then, and he quailed.

Seeming to shrivel, his shoulders slumping, his chest caving and the
big handsome head drooping, the Count stood in the doorway.  He could
not bear to look at them, and miserably he studied his gleaming toe
caps

Suddenly, he was assailed by a strange, a completely alien sound and he
looked up startled, ready to defend himself against physical attack.
The roomful of officers were applauding, beaming and grinning,

slapping palm to palm and the Count gaped at them, then glanced quickly
over his shoulder to be certain there was no one standing behind him,

and that this completely unexpected welcome was being directed at
him.

When he looked back he found a stocky, broad, shouldered figure in the
uniform of a general advancing upon him.  His face was hard and
unforgiving, with a fierce grey mustache over the grim trap of his
mouth and glittering eyes in deep dark sockets.

If the Count had been in command of his legs and his voice, he might
have run screaming from the room, but before he could move the

General seized him in a grip of iron, and the mustache raking his
cheeks was as rank and rough as the foliage of the trees of the Danakil
desert.

"Colonel, I am always honoured to embrace a brave man," growled the
General, hugging him close, his breath smelling pleasantly of garlic
and sesame seed, an aroma that blended in an interesting fashion with
the fragrant clouds of the Count's perfume.  The Count's legs could no
longer stand the strain, they almost collapsed under him.  He had to
grab wildly at the General to prevent himself falling.  This threw both
of them off balance, and they reeled across the ceramic floor, locked
in each other's arms, in a kind of elephantine waltz,

while the General struggled to free himself.

He succeeded at last, and backed away warily from the Count,

straightening his medals and reassembling his dignity while one of his
officers began to read out a citation from a scroll of parchment and
the applause faded into an attentive silence.

The citation was long and wordy, and it gave the Count time to pull his
scattered wits together.  The first half of the citation was lost to
him in his dreamlike state of shock, but then suddenly the words began
to reach him.  His chin came up as he recognized some of his own
composition, little verbal gems from his combat reports "Counting only
duty dear, scorning all but honour" that was his own stuff, by the
Virgin and Peter.

He listened now, with all his attention, and they were talking about
him.  They were talking of Aldo Belli.  His caved chest filled out, the
high colour flooded back into his cheeks, the turmoil of his rebellious
bowels was stilled, and fire flashed in his eye once more.

By God, the General had realized that every phrase, every word,

every comma and exclamation.  mark of his report was the literal truth
and the aide-de-camp was handing the General a leather-covered jewel
box, and the General was advancing on him again albeit with a certain
caution and then he was looping the watered silk ribbon over his head
so that the big enamelled, white cross with its centre star of emerald
green and sparkling diamantine, dangled down the front of the Count's
tunic.  The order of Irish St.  Maurice and St.  Lazarus (military
division) of the third class.

Keeping well out of his clutches, the General pecked each of the

Count's flushed cheeks and then took a hasty step backwards to join in
the applause while the Count stood there puffed with pride, feeling
that his heart might burst.

You will have that support now," the General assured him, scowling
heavily to hear how his predecessor had grudged the Count sufficient
force to win his objectives.  "I pledge it to you."  They were seated
now, just the three of them General Badoglio, his political agent and
the Count in the smaller private study adjoining the large formal
office.  Night had fallen outside the shuttered windows and the single
lamp was hooded to throw light down on the map spread on the table
top,

and leave the faces of the three men in shadow.

Cognac glowed in the leaded crystal glasses and the big ship's decanter
on its silver tray, and the blue smoke from the cigars spiralled up
slow and heavy as treacle in the lamplight.

"will need armour," said the Count without hesitation.

The thought of thick steel plate had always attracted him strongly.

"will give you a squadron of the light CV.3s," said the General,

and made a note on the pad at his elbow.

"And I will need air support."

"Can your engineers build a landing-strip for you at the Wells?"  The
General touched the map to illustrate the question.

"The land is flat and open.  It will present no difficulty," said the
Count eagerly.  Planes and tanks and guns, he was being given them all.
He was a real commander at last.

"Radio to me when the strip is ready for use.  I will send in a flight
of Capronis.  In the meantime, I will have the transport section convoy
in the fuel and armaments I shall consult the staff at airforce, but I
think the 100-kilo bombs will be most effective.  High explosive, and
fragmentation."

"Yes, yes," agreed the Count eagerly.

"And nitrogen mustard will you have use for the gas?"

"Yes, oh yes, indeed, said the Count.  It was not in his nature to
refuse bounty, he would take anything he was offered.

"Good."  The General made another note, laid aside his pencil, and then
looked up at the Count.  He glowered so ferociously that the Count was
startled and he felt the first nervous stir in his belly again.  He
found the General terrifying, like living on the slopes of a
temperamental Vesuvius.

"The iron fist, Belli," he said, and the Count realized with relief
that the scowl was directed not at him, but at the enemy.

Immediately the Count assumed an expression every bit as bellicose and
menacing.  He curled his lip and he spoke, just below a snarl.

"Put the blade at the enemy's throat, and drive it home."

"Without mercy, said the General.

"To the death," agreed the Count.  He was on his home ground now,

and only just hitting his stride; a hundred bloodthirsty slogans sprang
to mind but, recognizing his master, the General changed the
snowballing conversation adroitly.

"You are wondering why I have put such importance on your objectives.
You are wondering why I have given you such powerful forces, and why I
have set such store on you forcing the passage of the

Sardi Gorge and the road to the highlands."  The Count was wondering no
such thing, right now he was busy coming a phrase about wading through
blood, and he accepted the change of theme reluctantly, and arranged
his features in a politely enquiring frame.

The General waved his cigar expansively at the political agent who sat
opposite him.

"Signor Antolino."  He made the gesture and the agent sat forward
obediently so that the lamplight caught his face.

"Gentlemen."  He cleared his throat, and looked from one to the other
with mild brown eyes behind steel-framed spectacles.  He was a thin,
almost skeletal figure, in a rumpled white linen suit.  The wings of
his shirt collar were off-centre of his prominent Adam's apple and the
knot of the knitted silk tie had slid down and hung at the level of the
first button.  His head was almost bald, but he had grown the remaining
hairs long and greased them down over the shiny freckled plover-egg
scalp.

His mustache was waxed into points, but stained yellow with tobacco,
and he was of indefinite age over forty and under sixty with the dark
malarial yellow tan of a man who has lived all his life in the
tropics.

"For some time we have been concerned to design an appropriate form of
government for the captured ah the liberated territories of

Ethiopia."

"Come to the point," said the General abruptly.

"It has been decided to replace the present Emperor, Baile

Selassie, with a man sympathetic to the Italian Empire, and acceptable
to the people-"

"Come on, man," Badoglic, cut in again.  Verbal backing and filling
were repugnant to him.  He was a man of action rather than words.

"Arrangements have been completed after lengthy negotiation, and I
might add the promise of several millions of lire,

that at the politically opportune moment a powerful chieftain will
declare for us, bringing all his warriors and his influence across to
us.  This man will in due course be declared Emperor of Ethiopia and
will administer the territory under Italy."

"Yes, yes.  I

understand, "said the Count.

"The man governs part of the area which is the direct objective of your
column.  As soon as you have seized the Sardi Gorge and entered the
town of Sardi itself, this Chief will join you with his men and,

with appropriate international publicity, be declared King of

Ethiopia."

"The man's name?"  asked the Count, but the agent would not be
hurried.

"It will be your duty to meet with this Chief, and to synchronize your
efforts.  You will also make the promised payment in gold coin."

"Yes."

"The man is an hereditary Ras by rank.  He is presently commanding part
of the army that opposes you at Sardi.

However, that will change-" said the agent, and produced a thick
envelope from the briefcase beside his chair.  It was sealed with the
wax tablet and the embossed eagles of the Department of Colonial

Affairs.  "Here are your written orders.  You will sign for them,

please."  He inspected the Count's signature suspiciously, then, at
last satisfied, went on in the same dry disinterested voice.

"One other matter.  We have identified one of the white mercenaries
fighting with the Ethiopians those mentioned by you as being reported
by the three of your men captured by the enemy and subsequently
released."  The agent paused and drew on his almost dead cigar, puffing
up the tip to a bright healthy glow.

"The woman is a notorious agent provocateur, a Bolshevik with radical
and revolutionary sympathies.  She poses as a journalist,

employed by an American newspaper whose sentiments have always been
strongly anti-Empire.  Already some of this woman's biased
inflammatory, writings have reached the outside world.  They have been
a severe embarrassment to us at the Department-" He drew again on the
cigar, and spoke again through the billowing cloud of smoke.

"If she is taken, and I hope that you will place priority on her
capture, she is to be handed over immediately to the new Ethiopian

Emperor-designate, you understand?  You are not to be involved, but you
will not interfere with the Ras's execution of the woman."

"I see."  The

Count was becoming bored.  This political nitpicking was not the type
of thing which would hold his attention.  He wanted to show the young
lady hostesses at the Casino the great cross which now hung around his
neck and thumped on his chest each time he moved.

"As for the white man, the Englishman, the one responsible for the
brutal shooting of an Italian prisoner of war in front of witnesses, he
has been declared a murderer and a Political terrorist.  When you
capture him, he is to be shot out of hand.  That order goes for all
other foreigners serving under arms with the enemy troops.  This type
of thing must be put down sternly."

"You can rely on me," said the Count.  "There will be no quarter for
the terrorists."

General Pietro Badoglic, moved forward to Ambo Aradam, there were some
minor brushes.  while the Italian General deployed his men for the
major stroke.  At Abi Addi and Tembien he received advance warning of
the fighting qualities of his enemy, barefoot and armed with spear and
muzzle-loading gun.  As he wrote himself, "They have fought with
courage and determination.

Against our attacks, methodically carried out and covered by heavy
machine-gun fire and artillery barrage, their troops have stood firm,

and then engaged in furious hand-to-hand fighting; or they have moved
boldly to counter-attack, regardless of the avalanche of fire that had
immediately fallen upon them.  Against the organized fire of our
defending troops, their soldiers many of them armed only with Cold
steel attacked again and again, pushing right up to our wire
entanglements and trying to beat them down with their great swords."

Brave men, perhaps, but they were brushed aside by the huge Italian war
machine.  Then at last Badoglio could come at Ras Muguletu, the war
minister of Ethiopia, with his entire army waiting like an old lion in
the caves and precipitous heights of the natural mountain fortress of

Ambo Aradam.

He loosed his full might against the old chieftain, the big
three-engined Capronis roared in, wave after wave, to drop four hundred
tons of bombs upon the mountain in five days of continuous raids, while
his artillery hurled fifty thousand heavy shells, arcing them up from
the valley into the ravines and deep gorges until the outline of the
mountain was shrouded in the red mist of dust and cordite fumes.

Up to now, the time of waiting had passed pleasantly enough for

Count Aldo Belli at the Wells of Chaldi.  The addition to his forces
had altered his entire way of life.

Together with the magnificent enamelled cross around his neck,

they had added immeasurably to his prestige and correct sense of
self-importance.

For the first few weeks he never tired of reviewing and manoeuvring his
armoured forces.  The six speedy machines, with their low rakish lines
and Aided turrets, intrigued him.  Their speed over the roughest
ground, bouncing along on their spinning tracks, delighted him.  They
made wonderful shooting-brakes, for nothing held them up,

and he conceived the master strategy of using them for game drives.

A squadron of light CV.3 tanks, in extended line abreast, could sweep a
thirty-mile swathe of desert, driving all game before them,

down to where the Count waited with the Mannlicher.  It was the
greatest sport of his hunting career.

The scope of this activity was such that even in the limitless spaces
of the Danakil desert, it did not pass unnoticed.

Like their Ras, the Harari warriors were men of short patience.

Long inactivity bored them, and daily small groups of horsemen,

followed by their wives and pack donkeys, drifted away from the big
encampment at the foot of the gorge, and began the steep rocky ascent
to the cooler equable weather of the highlands, and the comforts and
business of home.  Each of them assured the Ras before departure of a
speedy return as soon as they were needed but nevertheless it irked
the

Ras to see his army dwindling and dribbling away while his enemy sat
invulnerable and unchallenged upon the sacred soil of Ethiopia.

Tensions in the encampment were running with the strength and passion
of the groundswell of the ocean, when storms are building out beyond
the horizon.

Caught up in the suppressed violence, in the boiling pot of emotion,
were both Gareth and Jake.  Each of them had used the lull to set his
own department in order.

Jake had gone out under cover of night behind a screen of

Ethiopian scouts to the deserted battlefield, where he had stripped the
carcass of the Hump.  Working by the light of a hooded bull's-eye
lantern, and assisted by Gregorius, he had taken the big Bentley engine
to pieces, small enough for the donkey packs and lugged it all home to
the encampment below the camel-thorn trees.  Using the replacements,

he had rebuilt the engine of Tenastefin ruined by the Ras in his first
flush of enthusiasm.  Then he had stripped, overhauled and reassembled
the other two cars.  The Ethiopian armoured forces were now a squadron
of three, all of them in as fine fettle as they had been for the past
twenty years.

Gareth, in the meantime, had selected and trained Harari crews for the
Vickers guns, and then exercised them with the infantry and cavalry,
teaching the gunners to lay down sheets of covering fire.

Foot soldiers were taught to advance or retreat in concert with the

Vickers.

Gareth had also found time to complete the survey of the retreat route
up the gorge, mark each of his defensive positions, and supervise the
digging of the machine-gun nests and support trenches in the steep
rocky sides of the gorge.  An enemy advancing up the twisting hairpin
track would come under fire around each bend of the road, and would be
open to the steam-roller charge of the foot warriors from the concealed
trenches amongst the lichen-covered rocks above the track.

The track itself had been smoothed, and the gradients altered to allow
the escape of the armoured cars once the position on the plains was
forced by the overwhelming build-up of Italian forces.  Now all of them
waited, as ready as they could be, and the slow passage of time eroded
all their nerves.

It was, then, with a certain relief that the scouts who were keeping
the Italian fortifications under day and night surveillance reported
back to the Ras's war council that a host of strange vehicles that
moved at great speed without the benefit of either legs or wheels had
arrived to swell the already formidable forces arrayed against them,
and that these vehicles were daily engaged in furious activity, from
sun-up to sun-down, racing in circles and aimless sweeps across the
vast empty spaces of the plains.

"Without wheels," mused Gareth, and cocked an eyebrow at Jake.

"You know what that sounds like, don't you, old son?"

"I'm afraid I

do."  Jake nodded.  "But we'd better go and take a look."  Half a moon
in the sky gave enough light to show up clearly the deeply torn runners
of the steel tracks, like the spoor of gigantic centipedes in the soft
fluffy soil.

Jake squatted on his haunches, and regarded them broodingly.  He knew
now that what he had dreaded was about to happen.  He was going to have
to take his beloved cars and match them against tracked vehicles with
heavier armour, and revolving turrets, armed with big-bored,
quick-firing guns.  Guns that could crash a missile into his frontal
armour, through the engine block, through the hull compartment and any
crew members in its path, then out through the rear armour with
sufficient velocity still on it to do the same again to the car
behind.

"Tanks," he muttered.  "Bloody tanks."

"I say, an eagle scout in our midst," murmured Gareth, sitting
comfortably up in the turret of

Priscilla the Pig.  "A tenderfoot might have thought those tracks were
made by a dinosaur but you can't fool old hawk-eye Barton, son of the

Texas prairies," and he reached out to stub his cheroot against the"

side of the turret, an action which he knew would annoy Jake
intensely.

Jake grunted and stood up.  "I'm going to buy you an ashtray for your
next birthday."  His voice was brittle.  It did not matter that his
beloved cars might be shot at by rifle, machine gun and now by cannon
that they had been scarred by flying gravel and harsh thorn.  The
deliberate crushing of burning tobacco against the fighting steel
annoyed him, as he knew it was meant to.

"Sorry, old son."  Gareth grinned easily.  "Slipped my mind.

Won't happen again."  Jake swung up the side of the car and dropped
into the driver's seat.  Keeping the engine noise down to a low murmur,
a sound as sweet and melodious in his ears as a Bach concerto,

he let Priscilla move away across the moon gilded plain.

When Jake and Gareth were alone like this, out on a reconnaissance or
working together in the gorge, the dagger of rivalry was sheathed and
their relationship was relaxed and comforting, spiced only by the mild
needling and jostling for position.  It was only in Vicky

Camberwell's physical presence that the knife came out.

Jake thought about it now, thought about the three of them as he did a
great deal each day.  He knew that, after that magical night when he
and Vicky had known each other on the hard desert earth, she was his
woman.  It was too wonderful an experience to have shared with another
human being for it not to have marked and changed both of them
profoundly.

Yet in the weeks since then there had been little opportunity for
reaffirmation a single stolen afternoon by a tall mist-smoking
waterfall in the gorge, a narrow ledge of black rock, cool with shadow
and green with soft beds of moss, and screened from prying eyes by the
overhang of the precipice.  The moss had been as soft as a feather bed,
and afterwards they swam naked together in the swirling cauldron of the
pool, and her body had been slim and pale and lovely through the dark
water.

Then again, he had watched her with Gareth Swales the way she laughed,
or leaned close to him to listen to a whispered comment, and the
mock-modest shock at his outrageous sallies, the laughter in her eyes
and on her lips.

Once she touched his arm, a thoughtless gesture while in conversation
with Gareth, a gesture so intimate and possessive that

Jake had felt the black jealous anger fill his head.

There was no cause for it, Jake knew that.  He could not believe she
was fool enough or so naive as to walk into the obvious web that

Gareth was weaving she was Jake's woman.  What they had done together,
their loving was so wonderful, so completely once in a lifetime, that
it was not possible she could turn aside to anyone else.

Yet between Vicky and Gareth there was the laughter and the shared
jokes.  Sometimes he had seen them together, standing on a rock
-promontory above the camp or walking in the grove of camel-thorn
trees, leaning towards each other as they talked.  Once or twice they
had both been absent from the camp at the same time for as long as a
complete morning.  But it meant nothing, he knew that.

Sure, she liked Gareth Swales.  He could understand that.

He liked Gareth also more than liked, he realized.  It was,

rather, a deep comradely feeling of affection.  You could not but be
drawn by his fine looks, his mocking sense of the ridiculous, and the
deep certainty that below that polished exterior and the overplayed
role of the foppish rogue was a different, a real person.

"Yeah.  "Jake sardonically grinned in the darkness, steering the car
south and east around the sky glow that marked the Italian
fortifications at the Wells.  "I love the guy.  I don't trust him,
but

I love him just as long as he keeps the hell away from my woman."

Gareth stooped out of the turret at that moment and tapped his
shoulder.

"There is a ravine ahead and to the left.  It should do," he said,

and Jake swung towards it and halted again.

"It's deep enough, "he gave his opinion.

"And we should be able to see across to the ridge and cover all the
ground to the east once the sun comes up."  Gareth pointed to the glow
of the Italian searchlights and then swept his arm widely across the
open desert beyond.

"That looks like where they hold their fun and games every day.

We should get a grandstand view from here.  We'd better get under cover
now."  They intended to spend the whole of that day observing the
activity of the Italian squadron, pulling out again under cover of
darkness, so Jake reversed Priscilla gingerly down the steep slope of
the ravine, backing and filling carefully, until she was in a hull-down
position below the bank with just the top of her turret exposed but
facing back towards the west with her front wheels at a point in the
bank which she could climb handily, if a quick start and a fast escape
were necessary.

He switched off the engine, and the two of them armed themselves with
machetes and wandered about in the open, hacking down the small wiry
desert brush and then piling it over the exposed turret, until from a
hundred yards it blended into the desert landscape.

Jake spilled gasoline from one of the spare cans into a bucket of sand,
then placed the bucket in the bottom of the ravine and put a match to
it.  They crouched over the primitive stove, warming themselves against
the desert chill, while the coffee brewed.  They were silent, thawing
out slowly, each thinking his own thoughts.

"I think we've got a problem" said Jake at last, as he stared into the
fire.

"With me that condition goes back as far as I can remember,"

Gareth agreed politely.  "But apart from the fact that I am stuck in
the middle of a horrible desert, with savages and bleeding hearts for
company, with an army of Eyeties trying to kill me, broke except for a
post-dated cheque of dubious value, not a bottle of the old Charlie
within a hundred miles, and no immediate prospect of escape apart from
that, I'm in very good shape."

"I was thinking of Vicky."

"Ah!

Vicky!"

"You know that I am in love with her."

"You surprise me."

Gareth grinned devilishly in the flickering firelight.  "Is that why
you have been mooning around with that soppy look on your face,

bellowing like a bull moose in the mating season?  Good Lord, I would
never have guessed, old boy."

"I'm being serious, Gary."

"That, old son, is one of your problems.  You take everything too
seriously.  I am prepared to offer odds of three to one that your mind
is already set on the ivy-covered cottage, bulging with ghastly
brats."

"That's the picture," Jake cut in sharply.  "It's that serious, I'm
afraid.  How do we stand?"  Gareth drew two cigars from his breast
pocket, placed one between Jake's lips, lit a dry twig from the fire
and held it for him.

The mocking grin dropped from his lips and his voice was suddenly
thoughtful, but the expression in his eyes was hard to read in the
uncertain firelight.

"Down in Cornwall, there's a place I know.  A hundred and fifty acres.
Comfortable old farm house, of course.  I'd have to do it up a bit, but
the cattle sheds are in good nick.

Always did fancy myself as the country squire, bit of hunting and
shooting in between tilling the earth and squirting the milk out of the
cows.  Might even run to three or four brats, at that.  With fourteen
thousand quid, and a whacking great mortgage bond, I could just about
swing it."  They were both silent then, as Jake poured the coffee and
doused the fire, and squatted again facing Gareth.

"It's that serious," Gareth said at last.

"So there isn't going to be a truce?  No gentlemen's agreement?  "Jake
murmured into his mug.

"Tooth and claw, I'm afraid," said Gareth.  "May the best man win,

and we'll name the first brat after you.  That's a promise."  They were
silent again, each of them lost in his own thoughts, sipping at the
mugs and sucking on their cheroots.

"One of us could get some sleep, "said Jake at last.

"Spin you for it."  Gareth flipped a silver Maria Theresa dollar,

and caught it neatly on his wrist.

"Heads,"said Jake.

"Tough luck, old son."  Gareth pocketed the coin and flicked out the
coffee grounds from his mug.  Then he went to spread his blanket on the
sandy ravine bottom, under Priscilla the Pig's chassis.

Jake shook him gently in the dawn, and cautioned him with a touch on
the lips.  Gareth came swiftly awake, blinking his eyes and smoothing
back his hair with both hands, then rolling to his feet and following
Jake quickly up the side of Priscilla's hull.

The dawn was a silent explosion of red and gold and brilliant apricot
that fanned out across half the eastern sky, touched the high ground
with fire but left the long grey blue shadows smeared across the low
places.  The crescent of the sinking moon low on the western horizon
was white as a shark's tooth.

"Listen," said Jake, and Gareth turned his head slightly to catch the
tremble of sound in the silence of the dawn.

"Hear it?"  Gareth nodded, and lifted his binoculars.  Slowly he swept
the distant sun-touched ridges.

"There," said Jake sharply, and Gareth swung the glasses in the
direction of Jake's arm.

Some miles off, a string of dark indefinite blobs were moving through
one of the depressions in the gently undulating terrain.  They looked
like beads on a rosary; even in the magnifying lens of the glasses they
were too far off and too dimly lit to afford details.

They watched them, following the almost sinuous line as it snaked
across their front until the leading blob drew the line up the gentle
slope of ground.  As it reached the crest, it was struck with startling
suddenness by the low golden sun.  In the still cool air there was no
distortion, and the dramatic side-lighting made every detail of its low
profile clear and crisp.

"CV.3 cavalry tanks," said Gareth, without hesitation.

"Fifty-horse-power Alfa engines.  Ten centimetres of frontal armour and
a top speed of eighteen miles an hour."  It was as though he were
reading the specifications from a catalogue, and Jake remembered that
these were part of his stock-in-trade.  "There's a crew of three,

driver, loader gunner and commander and it looks as though they are
mounting the fifty-men.  Spandau.  They are accurate at a thousand
yards and the rate of fire is fifteen rounds a minute."  As he was
speaking the leading tank dropped from sight over the reverse slope of
the ridge, followed in quick succession by the five others and their
engine noise droned away into silence.

Gareth lowered his glasses and grinned ruefully.  "Well, we are a
little out of our class.  Those Spandaus are in fully revolving
turrets.  We are out-gunned all to hell."

"We are faster than they are," said Jake hotly, like a mother whose
children had been scorned.

"And that, old son, is all we are, "grunted Gareth.

"How about a bite of breakfast?  It's going to be a long hard day to
sit out before it's dark enough to head for home."  They ate tinned

Irish stew, heated over the bucket, and smeared on thick spongy hunks
of unleavened bread, washed down by tea, strong and sweet with
condensed milk and lumpy brown sugar.  The sun was well up before they
finished.

Jake belched softly.  "My turn to sleep," he said, and he curled up
like a big brown dog in the shade under the hull.

Gareth tried to make himself comfortable against the turret and keep
watch out across the open plain, where the mirage was already starting
to quiver and fume in the rising heat.  He congratulated himself
comfortably on his choice of shift; he'd had a good few hours" sleep in
the night, and now he had the comparative cool of the morning.  By the
time it was Jake's turn on watch again, the sun would be frizzling, and
Priscilla's hull hot as a wood stove.

"Look out for Number One," he murmured, and took a leisurely sweep of
the land with the glasses.  There was no way that an Italian patrol
could surprise them here.  He had selected the stake-out with a
soldier's eye for ground, and he congratulated himself again, as he
slumped in relaxation against the turret and lit a cheroot.

"Now," he thought.  "Just how do you take on a squadron of cavalry
tanks, without artillery, mine-fields or armour-piercing guns ?"  and
he let his mind tease and worry the problem.  A couple of hours later
he had decided that there were ways, but all of them depended on having
the tanks come in at the right place, from the right direction at the
right time.  "Which, of course, is an animal of a completely different
breed," and that took a lot more thought.  Another hour later he knew
there was only one way the Italian armoured squadron could be made to
co-operate in its own destruction.  "The jolly old donkey and the
carrot trick again," he thought.  "Now all we need is a carrot."

Instinctively he looked down at where Jake lay curled.  Jake had not
moved once in all the hours, only the deep soft rumble of his breathing
showed he was still alive.  Gareth felt a prickle of irritation that he
should be enjoying such undisturbed rest.

The heat was a heavy oppressive pall, pressing down upon the earth,
beating like a gong upon Gareth's head.

The sweat dried almost instantly upon his skin, leaving a rime of salt
crystals, and he screwed up his eyes as he swept the horizon with the
glasses.

The glare and the mirage had obscured the horizon, blotted out even the
nearest ridges behind a shifting throbbing curtain of hot air that
seemed thick as water, swirling and spiralling in wavering columns and
sluggish eddies.

Gareth blinked his eyes, and shook the drops of sweat from his
eyebrows.  He glanced at his watch.  It was still another hour until

Jake's shift, and he contemplated putting his watch forward.  It was
distinctly uncomfortable up on the hull in the sun, and he glanced
again at the sleeping form in the shade.

Just then he caught a sound on the thick heated air, a soft quiver of
sound, like the hive murmur of bees.  There was no way in which to tell
the direction of the sound, and Gareth crouched attentively,

straining for it.  It faded and returned, faded and returned again, but
this time stronger and more definite.  The configuration of the land
and the flawed and heat-faulted air were playing tricks on the ear.

Suddenly the volume of sound climbed swiftly, becoming a humming growl
that shook in the.  heat.

Gareth swung the glasses to the east; it seemed to emanate from the
whole curve of the eastern horizon, like the animal growl of the
surf.

For an instant the glare and swirling mirage opened enough for him to
see a huge darkly distorted shape, a grotesque lumbering monster on
four stilt-like legs, seeming as tall as a double-storey building.

Then the mirage closed down again swiftly, leaving Gareth blinking with
doubt and alarm at what he had seen.  But now the growl of sound beat
steadily in the air.

Jake," he called urgently, and was answered by a snort and a changed
volume of snore.  Gareth broke off a branch from the layer of
camouflage and tossed it at the reclining figure.  It caught Jake in
the back of the neck and he came angrily awake, one fist bunched and
ready to punch.

"What the hell-'he snarled.

"Come up here, "called Gareth.

"I can't see a damned thing," muttered Jake, standing high on the
turret and peering eastwards through his glasses.  The sound was now a
deep drumming growl, but the wall of glare and mirage was close and
impenetrable.

"There!"  shouted Gareth.

"Oh my God!"  cried Jake.

The huge shape leaped out at them suddenly.  Very close, very black and
tall, blown up by distortion and mirage to gargantuan proportions.  Its
shape changed constantly, so at one moment it looked like a four-masted
ship under a full suit of black sails then it altered swiftly into a
towering black tadpole shape that wriggled and swam through the soupy
air.

"What the hell is it?  "Gareth demanded.

"I don't know, but it's making a noise like a squadron of Italian tanks
and it's coming straight at us."

The Captain who commanded the Italian tank squadron was an angry,

disgruntled and horribly disillusioned man a man burdened by a soul
corroding grudge.

Like so many officers of the cavalry tradition, the anne blanche of the
army, he was a romantic, obsessed by the image of himself as a dashing,
reckless warrior.  The dress uniform of his regiment still included
skin-tight breeches with a scarlet silk stripe down the outside of the
leg, soft black riding boots and silver spurs, a tightly fitting bum
freezer jacket encrusted with thick gold lace and heavy epaulets, a
short cloak worn carelessly over one shoulder and a tall black shako.
This was the picture he cherished of himself all Man and swagger.

Here he was in some devil-conceived, god-cursed desert, where day after
day he and his beloved fighting machines were sent out to find wild
animals and drive them in on a set point, where a mad megalomaniac
waited to shoot them down.

The damage it was doing his tanks, the grinding wear on tracks running
hard over rough terrain and through diamond-hard abrasive sand,

was as nothing compared to the damage his pride was suffering.

He had been reduced to nothing but a gamekeeper, a beater, a peasant
beater.  The Captain spent much of each day at the very edge of tears,
the tears of deep humiliation.

Every evening he protested to the mad Count in the strongest possible
terms and the following day found him once more pursuing wild animals
over the desert.

So far the bag had consisted of a dozen lions and wild dogs, and many
scores of large antelope.  By the time these were delivered to where
the Count waited, they were almost exhausted, lathered with sweat, and
with a froth of saliva drooling from their jaws, barely able to trot
after the long chase across the plains.

The condition of the game detracted not at all from the Count's
pleasure.  Indeed, the Captain had been given specific orders to run
the game hard so that it came to the guns docile and winded.  After his
alarming experience with the beisa oryx, the Count was not eager to
take foolhardy risks.  An easy shot and a good photograph were his
yardsticks of the day's sport.

The greater the bag, the greater the pleasure and the Count had enjoyed
himself immensely since the arrival of the tanks.  However, the wastes
of the Danakil desert could not support endless quantities of animal
life, and the bag had fallen off sharply in the last few days as the
herds were scattered and annihilated.  The Count was displeased.

He told the Captain of tanks so forcibly, adding to the man's
discontent and sense of grudge.

The Captain of tanks found the old bull elephant standing alone,

like a tall granite monument, upon the open plain.  He was enormous,

with tattered ears like the sails of an ancient schooner, and tiny
hating eyes in their webs of deep wrinkles.  One of his tusks was
broken off near the lip, but the other was thick and long and yellow,

worn to a blunt-rounded tip at the end of its curve.

The Captain stopped his tank a quarter of a mile from where the
elephant stood, and examined him through his binoculars while he got
over the shock of his size then the Captain began to smile, a wicked
twist of the mouth under his handsome mustache, and his dark eyes
sparkled.

"So, my dear Colonel, you want game, much game," he whispered.

"You will have it.  I assure you."  He approached the elephant
carefully from the east, crawling the tank in gingerly towards the
animal, and the old bull turned and watched them come.  His ears were
spread wide and his long trunk sucked and coiled into his mouth as he
tested the air, breathing it onto the olfactory glands in his top lip
as he groped for the scent of this strange creature.

He was a bad-tempered old bull, who had been harried and hunted for
thousands of miles across the African continent, and beneath his
scarred and creased old hide were the spear-heads, the pot legs fired
from mule-loading guns, and the jacketed slugs from modern rifled
firearms.  All he wanted now in his great age was to be left alone he
wanted neither the demanding company of the breeding cows, the
importunate noisy play of the calves, nor the single-minded pursuit of
the men who hunted him.  He had come into the desert, to the burning
days and coarse vegetation to find that solitude, and now he was moving
slowly down to the Wells of Chaldi, water which he had last tasted as a
young breeding bull twenty-five years before.

He watched the buzzing growling things creeping in towards him,

and he tasted their rank oily smell, and he did not like it.  He shook
his head, flapping his ears like the crash of canvas taking the wind on
a new tack, and he squealed a warning.

The growling humming things crept closer and he rolled his trunk up
against his chest, he cocked his ears half back and curled the tips but
the tank Captain did not recognize the danger signals and he kept on
coming.

Then the elephant charged, fast and massive, the fall of his huge pads
thumping against the earth like the beat of a bass drum, and he was so
fast, so quick off the mark that he almost caught the tank.  If he had
he would have flicked it over on its back without having to exert all
his mountainous strength.  But the driver was as quick as he,

and he swung away right under the outstretched trunk, and held his best
speed for half a mile before the bull gave up the pursuit.

"My Captain, I could shoot it with the Spandau," urged the gunner
anxiously.  He had not enjoyed the chase.

"No!  No!"  The Captain was delighted.

"He is a very angry, dangerous and ferocious animal," the gunner
pointed out.

"SO" the Captain laughed happily, rubbing his hands together with glee.
"He is my very special gift to the Count."  After the fifth approach by
the tanks, the old bull grew bored with the unrewarding effort of
chasing after them.

With his belly rumbling protestingly, his stubby tail twitching
irritably, and the musk from the glands behind his eyes weeping in a
long, wet smear down his dusty cheeks, he allowed himself to be
shepherded towards the west by the following line of cavalry tanks but
he was still a very angry elephant.

You're not going to believe this," said Gareth Swales softly.  "I'm not
even sure I believe it myself.  But it's an elephant, and it's leading
a full squadron of Eyetie tanks straight to us."

"I don't believe it," said Jake.  "I can see it happening but I don't
believe it.  They must have trained it like a bloodhound.  Is that
possible, or am I going crazy?"

"Both," said Gareth.  "May I suggest we get ready to move.

They are getting frightfully close, old son."  Jake jumped down to the
crank handle, while Gareth dropped into the driver's hatch and swiftly
adjusted the ignition and throttle setting.

"All set," he said, glancing anxiously over his shoulder.

The great elephant was less than a thousand yards away.

Coming on steadily, in that long driving stride, a pace between a walk
and a trot that an elephant can keep up for thirty miles without check
or rest.

"You might hurry it up, at that," he added, and Jake spun the crank.
Priscilla made no response, not even a cough to encourage Jake as he
wound the crank frantically.

After a full minute, Jake staggered back gasping, and doubled over with
hands on his knees as he sucked for air.

"This bloody infernal machine-" Gareth began, but Jake straightened up
with genuine alarm.

"Don't start swearing at her, or she'll never start," he cautioned

Gareth, and he stooped to the crank handle again.  "Come along now, my
darling," he whispered, and threw his weight on the crank.

Gareth took another quick glance over his shoulder.  The bizarre
procession was closer, much closer.  He leaned out of the driver's
hatch and patted Priscilla's engine-cowling tenderly.

"There's my love," he crooned.  "Come along, my beauty."  The

Count's hunting party sat out in collapsible camp chairs under the
screens, double canvas to protect them from the cruel sun.  The mess
servants served iced drinks and light refreshments, and a random breeze
that flapped the canvas occasionally was sufficient to keep the
temperature bearable.

The Count was in an expansive mood, host to half a dozen of his
officers, all of them dressed in casual hunting clothes, armed with a
selection of sporting rifles and the occasional service rifle.

"I think we can rely on better sport today.  I believe that our beaters
will be trying harder, after my gentle admonitions."  He smiled and
winked, and his officers laughed dutifully.  "Indeed, I am hoping-"

"My Count.  My Count."  Gino rushed breathlessly into the tent like a
frenzied gnome.  "They are coming.  We have seen them from the
ridge."

"Ah!"  said the Count with deep satisfaction.  "Shall we go down and
see what our gallant Captain of tanks has for us this time?"  And he
drained the glass of white Wine in his hand, while Gino rushed over to
help him to his feet, and then backed away in front of him, leading him
to where Giuseppe was hastily removing the dust covers from the
Rolls.

The small procession, headed by the Count's Rolls, Royce, wound down
the slope of the low ridge to where the blinds had been sited in a line
across the width of the shallow valley.  The blinds had been built by
the battalion engineers, dug into the red earth so as not to stand too
high above the low desert scrub.  They were neatly thatched,

covered against the sun, with loopholes from which to fire upon the
driven game.  There were comfortable camp chairs for those long waits
between drives, a small but well-stocked bar, ice in insulated
buckets,

a separate screened latrine in fact all the comforts to make the day's
sport more enjoyable.

The Count's blind was in the centre of the line.  It was the largest
and most luxuriously appointed, situated so that the great majority of
driven game would bunch upon this point.  His junior officers had
earlier learned the folly of exceeding the Colonel's"

personal bag or of firing at any animal which was swinging across their
front towards the Count.  The first offender in this respect had found
himself reduced from Captain to Lieutenant, and no longer invited to
the hunt, and the second was already back in Massawa writing out
requisition forms in the quartermaster's division.

Gino handed the Count from the Rolls, and helped him down the steps
into the sunken shelter.  Giuseppe saluted and climbed back into the
Rolls, swung away and bumped back up the ridge and over the skyline.

The Count settled himself comfortably in the canvas chair.  With a
sigh, he unbuttoned the front of his jacket, and accepted the damp face
cloth that Gino handed him.

While the Count wiped the film of sweat from his forehead with the cool
cloth, Gino opened a bottle of Lacrima Cristi from the ice bucket and
placed a tall frosted crystal glass of the wine on the folding table at
the Count's elbow.  Next, he loaded the

Marmlicher with shiny new brass cartridges from a freshly opened
packet.

The Count tossed the cloth aside and leaned forward in his chair to
peer through the loophole in front of him, out across the shimmering
plain where the small dark desert scrub danced in the heat.

"I have a feeling we shall have extraordinary sport today, Gino."

I hope so indeed, my Count, said the little sergeant and stood to
attention behind his chair with the loaded Mannlicher held at the ready
across his chest.

ome on, darling," croaked Jake, sweat dripping from his chin on to his
shirt front as he stooped over the crank handle and spun it for the
hundredth time.

"Don't let us down now, sweetheart."  Gareth scrambled up on to the
sponson of Priscilla and took a long despairing glance back over the
turret.  He felt something freeze in his belly, and his breath
caught.

The elephant was a hundred paces away, coming directly down on top of
them at a loose shambling walk, the great black ears flapping sullenly
and the little piggy eyes alight with malevolence.

Right behind it, fanned out on each side, pressing closely on the great
beast's heels, came the full squadron of Italian tanks.  The sun
glittered on the smoothly rounded frontal armour, and caught the bright
festival flutter of their cavalry pennants.  From each hatch protruded
the black-helmeted head of the tank commander.  Through the
binoculars

Gareth could make out the individual features of each commander, they
were that close.

Within minutes they would be overrun, and there was no chance that they
could escape detection.  The elephant was leading the Italians directly
to the ravine, and their scanty camouflage of scrub branches would not
stand scrutiny at less than a hundred yards.

They could not even protect themselves, the Vickers machine gun was
pointed away from the approaching enemy, and the limited traverse of
the ball mounting was not sufficient to bring it to bear.  Gareth was
engulfed suddenly by a black and burning rage for the stubborn piece of
machinery beneath his feet.  He took a vicious heartfelt kick at the
steel turret.

"You treacherous bitch, he snarled, and at that moment the engine fired
and, without preliminary gulping and popping, roared angrily.

Jake bounded up the side of the hull, droplets of sweat flying from his
sodden hair, red-faced as he gasped at Gareth.

"You've got the gentle touch."

"With all women there is the psychological moment, old son, "Gareth
explained, grinning with relief as he scrambled into the turret and
Jake dropped behind the controls.

Jake gunned the motor, and Priscilla threw off her covering, of cut
thorn branches.  Her wheels spun in the loose sand of the ravine,

blowing up a cloud of red dust, and she tore up the steep bank and
lunged out into the open directly under the startled outstretched trunk
of the elephant.

The old bull had by this stage suffered provocation sufficient to take
him to the edge of a blind, black rage.  It needed only this new
buzzing frightfulness to launch him over the edge.  The leisurely pace
that he had set up until now left his mountainous strength and
endurance untouched, and now he trumpeted, a ringing ear-splitting
challenge that rolled across the vast silences of the desert like the
trumpet of doom.  His ears curled back against his skull and with his
trunk coiled against his chest, he crashed forward into a terrible
ground-shaking charge.

His speed over the broken ground was greater than that of

Priscilla the Pig, and he bore down upon her like a cliff of grey
granite huge, menacing and indestructible.

The Captain of tanks had been shepherding the old elephant along
gently.  He did not want him to tax his strength.  He wanted to deliver
to his commanding officer an animal in the peak of its anger and
destructive capabilities.

He was sitting up in his turret, chuckling and shaking his head with
anticipation and growing delight, for the hunter's lines were only a
mile or so ahead when suddenly, directly ahead of him, the ground
erupted and an armoUred car roared out in a cloud of red dust.  It was
of a model that the Captain had seen only in illustrated books of
military history like an apparition out of the remote past.

It took him some seconds to believe what he was seeing, then with a
jarring impact on his already highly strung nerve ends, he recognized
the enemy colours that the ancient machine was flying.

"Advance!"  he screamed.  "Squadron, advance!"  and he groped
instinctively at his side for his sword.  "Engage the enemy."  On each
side of him his tanks roared forward, and for want of a sword, the

Captain tore his helmet off and waved it over his head.

"Charge!"  he screamed.  "Forward into battle!"  Now at last he was not
a mere game-beater.  Now he was a warrior leading his men into action.
His excitement was So contagious and the dust thrown up by the car, the
elephant and the steel tracks so thick, that the first two tanks did
not even see the fifteen-foot-deep sheer-sided ravine.

Running side by side, they went into it at the top of their speed and
were destroyed effectively as though they had been demolished by a

100 kilo, aerial bomb, the riding wheels ripped away by the impact and
the heavy steel tracks flying loose and snaking viciously into the air
like living angry cobras.  The revolving turrets were torn from their
seatings, neatly bisecting the men at the waist, who stood in the
hatches, as though with a gigantic pair of scissors.

Clinging to the rim of his own turret and peering backwards,

Gareth saw the two machines disappear into the earth, and the great
leaping towers of dust that rose high into the air to mark their
destruction.

"Two down" he shouted.

"But another four to go," Jake shouted back grimly, fighting

Priscilla over the rough earth.  "And how about that jumbo?"

"How indeed!"  The elephant, goaded on by the roar of engines and crash
of steel behind and by the buzzing bouncing car ahead of it, was making
incredible speed over the broken scrubby plain.

"He's right here with us," Gareth told Jake anxiously.  So close was
the great beast that Gareth had to look up at it, and he saw the thick
grey.  trunk uncoiling from its chest and reaching out to pluck him
from the turret.

"As fast as you like, old son, or you'll have him sitting on your
head."

"I have told that idiot not to run the game down on the guns so hard,"
snapped the Count petulantly.  "I -have told him a dozen times,

have I not, Gino?"

"Indeed, my Count."

"Run them hard at the beginning,

then bring them in gently for the last mile or so.  "The Count took an
angry gulp at his glass.  "The man is a fool, an insufferable fool
and

I can't abide fools around me."  "Indeed not, my Count.  I shall send
him back to Massawa-" the rest of the threat trailed away, and the

Count sat suddenly upright, the canvas chair creaking under his
weight.

"Gino," he murmured uneasily.  "There is something very strange taking
place out there."  Both of them peered anxiously out through the rifle
slots in the thatched wall of the blind at the billowing dust clouds
that raced down upon them with quite alarming speed.

"Gino, is it possible?"  asked the Count.

"No, my Count," Gino assured him, but without any true conviction.

"It is the mirage.  It is not possible."

"Are you certain, Gino?"  The

Count's voice "took on a strident edge.

"No, my Count."

"Nor am I, Gino.  What does it look like to you?"

"It looks like,- Geno's voice choked off.  "I do not like to say, my

Count," he whispered.  "I think I am going mad."  At that moment the

Captain of tanks, whose efforts to catch up with the fleeing armoured
car and stampeding elephant were unavailing, opened fire with the 50
men.

Spandau upon them.  More accurately, he opened fire in the general
direction of the rolling dust cloud which obscured his forward
vision,

and through which he caught only occasional glimpses of beast and
machine.  To confound further the aim of his gunner, the range was
rapidly increasing, the manoeuvres with which the armoured car was
trying to throw off the close pursuit of the elephant were violent and
erratic, and the cavalry tank itself was plunging and leaping wildly
over the rough ground.

Fire!"  shouted the Captain.  "Keep firing," and his gunner sent half a
dozen high-explosive shells screeching low over the plain.  The other
tanks heard the banging of their Captain's cannon and immediately and
enthusiastically followed his example.

One of the first shells struck the thatched front wall of the blind in
which the Count and Gino cowered in horrified fascination.

The flimsy wall of grass did not trigger the fuse of the shell so there
was no explosion, but nevertheless the high-velocity shell passed not
eighteen inches from the Count's left ear, with a crack of disrupted
air that stunned him, before exiting through the rear wall of the blind
and howling onwards to burst a mile out in the empty desert.

"If the Count no longer needs me-" Gino snapped a hasty salute and
before the Count had recovered his wits enough to forbid it, he had
dived through the shell hole in the rear wall of the blind and hit the
ground on the far side, already running.

Gino was not alone.  From each of the blinds along the line leapt the
figures of the other hunters, the sound of their hysterical cries
almost drowned by the roar of engines, the trumpeting of an angry bull
elephant and the continuous thudding roar of cannon fire.

The Count tried to rise from his chair, but his legs betrayed him and
he managed only a series of convulsive leaps.  His mouth gaped wide in
his deathly pale face, but no sound came out of it.  The Count was
beyond speech, almost beyond movement just the strength for one more
desperate heave, and the chair toppled forward, throwing the Count face
down upon the sunken earth floor of the blind, where he covered his
head with both arms.

At that instant, the armoured car, still under full throttle, came in
through the front wall.  The thatched blind exploded around it, but the
impetus of the car's charge was sufficient to carry it in a single leap
over the dugout.  The spinning wheels hurled inches over the

Count's prostrate form, showering him with a stinging barrage of sand
and loose gravel.  Then it was gone.

The Count struggled to sit up, and had almost succeeded when the huge
enraged form of the bull elephant pounded over the blind.  One of its
great feet struck the Count a glancing blow on the shoulder and he
screamed like a hand-saw and once again flung himself flat on the floor
of the dugout while the elephant pounded onwards towards the far
horizon, still in pursuit of the flying car.

The earth shook beneath the approach of another heavy body, and the
Count flattened himself to the floor of the dugout deafened,

dazed and paralysed with terror, until the commander of tanks stood
over him and asked solicitously, "Was the game to your liking, my

Colonel?"  Even after Gino returned and Helped the Count to his feet,
dusted him down and helped him into the back seat of the Rolls,

the threats and insults still poured from the Count's choked throat in
a high-pitched stream.

"You are a degenerate and a coward.  You are guilty of dereliction of
duty, of gross irresponsibility.  You allowed them to escape, sir and
you placed me in deadly peril-" They eased the Count down on the
cushions of the Rolls, but as the car pulled away he jumped up to hurl
a parting salvo at the Captain of tanks.

"You are an irresponsible degenerate, sir!  - a coward and a

Bolshevik and I shall personally command your firing squad-" His voice
faded into the distance as the Rolls drew away up the ridge in the
direction of the camp, but the Count's good arm was still waving and
gesticulating as they crossed the skyline.

The elephant followed them far out across the desert, long after the
pursuing tank squadron had been left behind and abandoned the chase.
The old bull lost ground steadily over the last mile or so,

until at last he also gave up and stood swaying with exhaustion but
still shaking out his ears and throwing up his trunk in that
truculent,

almost human gesture of challenge and defiance.

Gareth saluted him with respect as they drew away and left him,

like a tall black monolith, out on the dry pale plains.  Then he lit
two cheroots, crouching down into the turret out of the wind, and
passed one down to Jake in the driver's compartment.

"A good day's work, (old son.  We pronged two of the godless ones,

and we have put the others in the right frame of mind."

"How's that again?  "Jake puffed gratefully at the cheroot.

"Next time those tank men lay eyes on us, they'll not stop to count
consequences, but they'll be after us like a pack of long dogs after a
bitch."

"And that's a good thing?  "Jake removed the cheroot from his mouth to
ask incredulously.

"That's a good thing' Gareth assured him.

"Well, you could have fooled me."  He drove on for a few more minutes
in silence towards the mountains, then shook his head bemusedly.

Tranged?  What the hell kind of word is that?"

"Just thought of it this minute," Gareth said.  "Expressive, what?"  -"
The Count lay face down upon his cot; he wore only a pair of silk
shorts, of a pale and delicate blue, embroidered with his family coat
of arms.

His body was smooth and pale and plump, with that sleek well-fed sheen
which takes a great deal of money, food and drink to nourish.  On the
pale skin his body hair was dark and curly and crisp as newly picked
lettuce leaves.  It grew in a light cloud across his shoulders,

and then descended his back to disappear at last like a wisp of smoke
into the cleft of his milky buttocks that showed coyly above the
waistband of his shorts.

Now the smoothness of his body was spoiled by the ugly red abrasions
and new purple bruises which flowered upon his ribs and blotched his
legs and arms.

He groaned with a mixture of agony and gratification as Gino knelt over
him, his sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and worked the liniment into
his shoulder.  His dark sinewy fingers sank deeply into the sleek pale
flesh, and the stench of liniment stung the eyes and nostrils.

"Not so hard, Gino.  Not so hard, I am badly hurt."

"I am sorry,

my Colonel," and he worked on in silence while the Count groaned and
grunted and wriggled on the bed under him.

"My Colonel, may I speak?"

"No," grunted the Colonel.  "Your salary is already liberal.

No, Gino, already I pay you a prince's ransom."

"My Colonel, you do me wrong.  I would not speak of such a mundane
subject at this time."

"I am delighted to hear it," groaned the Count.  "Ah!

There!  That spot!  That's it!"  Gino worked on the spot for a few
seconds.  "If you study the lives of the great Italian Generals Julius
Caesar and-" Gino paused here while he searched his mind and more
recent history for another great Italian General; the silence stretched
out and Gino repeated, "Take Julius Caesar, as an example."

"Yes?"

"Even Julius Caesar did not himself swing the sword.  The truly great
commander stands aside from the actual battle.

He directs, plans, commands the lesser mortals."

"That is true,

Gino."

"Any peasant can swing a sword or fire a gun, what are they but mere
cattle!"

"That is also true."

"Take Napoleon Bonaparte, or the

Englishman Wellington."  Gino had abandoned his search for the name of
a victorious Italian warrior within the last thousand years or SO.

"Very well, Gino, take them?"

"When they fought, they themselves were remote from the actual
conflict.  Even when they confronted each other at Waterloo, they stood
miles apart like two great chess masters,

directing, manoeuvring, commanding-"

"What are you trying to say,

Gino?"

"Forgive me, my coUnt, but have you not perhaps let your courage blind
you, have not your warlike instincts, your instinct to tear the jugular
from your enemy ... have you not perhaps lost sight of a commander's
true role the duty to stand back from the actual fighting and survey
the overall battle?"  Gino waited with trepidation for the

Count's reaction.  It had taken him all his courage to speak, but even
the Count's wrath could not outweigh the terror he felt at the prospect
of being plunged once more into danger.  His place was at the Count's
side; if the Count continued to expose them both to all the terrors and
horrors of this barren and hostile land, then Gino knew that he could
no longer continue.

His nerves were trampled, raw, exposed, his nights troubled with dreams
from which he woke sweating and trembling.

He had a nerve below his left eye that had recently begun to twitch
without control.  He was fast reaching the end of his nervous strength.
Soon something within him might snap.

"Please, my Count.  For the good of all of us you must all curb your
impetuosity."  He had touched a responsive chord in his master.  He had
voiced precisely the Count's own feelings, feelings which had over the
last few weeks" desperate adventures, become deep-seated convictions.
He struggled up on one elbow, lifted his noble head with its anguished
brow and looked at the little sergeant.

"Gino," he said.  "You are a philosopher."

"You do me too much honour, my Count."

"No!  No!  I mean it.  You have a certain gutter wisdom, the
perceptions of the streets, a peasant philosopher."  Gino would not
himself have put it quite that way, but he bowed his head in
acquiescence.

"I have been unfair to my brave boys," said the Count, and his whole
demeanour changed, becoming radiant and glowing with good will,

like that of a reprieved prisoner.  "I have thought only of myself my
own glory, my own honour, recklessly I have plunged into danger,

without reckoning the cost.  Ignoring the terrible risk that I might
leave my brave boys without a leader orphans without a father."  Gino
nodded fervently.  "Who could ever replace you in their hearts, or at
their head?"

"Gino."  The Count clapped a fatherly hand to his shoulder.

"I must be less selfish in the future."

"My Count, you cannot know how much pleasure it gives me to hear it,"
cried Gino, and he trembled with relief as he thought of long,
leisurely days spent in peace and security behind the earthworks and
fortifications of Chaldi camp.

"Your duty is to command!"

"Plan!  said the Count.

"Direct!"  said Gino.

"I fear it is my destiny."

"Your God-given duty."  Gino backed him up, and as the Count sank down
once more upon the cot, he fell with renewed vigour upon the injured
shoulder.

"Gino," said the Count at last.  "When last did we speak of your
wages?"

"Not for many months, my Count."

"Let us discuss it now," said

Aldo Belli comfortably.  "You are a jewel without price.  Say, another
hundred lire a month."

"The sum of one hundred and fifty had crossed MY

mind, murmured Gino respectfully.

The Count's new military philosophy was received with unbounded
enthusiasm by his officers, when he explained it to them that evening
in the mess tent, over the liqueurs and cigars.  The idea of leading
from the rear seemed not only to be practical and sensible, but
downright inspired.  This enthusiasm lasted only until they learned
that the new philosophy applied not to the entire officer cadre of
the

Third Battalion, but to the Colonel only.  The rest of them were to be
given every opportunity to make the supreme sacrifice for God, country
and Benito Mussolini.  At this stage the new philosophy lost much
popular support.

In the end, only three persons stood to benefit from the rearrangement
the Count, Gino and Major Luigi Castelani.

The Major was so overjoyed to learn that he now had what amounted to
unfettered command of the battalion that for the first time in many
years he took a bottle of grappa to his tent that evening, and sat
shaking his head and chuckling fruitily into his glass.

The following morning's burning, blinding headache that only grappa can
produce, combined with his new freedom, made the Major's grip on the
battalion all the more ferocious.  The new spirit spread like a fire in
dry grass.  Men cleaned their rifles, burnished their buttons and
closed them to the neck, stubbed out their cigarettes and trembled a
little while Castelani rampaged through the camp at

Chaldi, dealing out duties, ferreting out the malingerers and
stiffening spines with the swishing cane in his right hand.

The honour guard that fell in that afternoon to welcome the first
aircraft to the newly constructed airfield were so beautifully turned
out with polished leather and glittering metal, and their drill was so
smartly performed, that even Count Aldo Belli noticed it, and commended
them warmly.

The aircraft was a three-engined Caproni bomber.  It came lumbering in
from the northern skies, circled the long runway of raw earth, and then
touched down and raised a long rolling storm of dust with the wash of
its propellers.

The first personage to emerge from the doorway in the belly of the
silver fuselage was the political agent from Asmara, Signor Antolino,

looking more rumpled and seedy than ever in his creased, ill-fitting
tropical linen suit.  He raised his straw panama.  in reply to the

Count's flamboyant Fascist salute, and they embraced briefly, the man
stood low on the social and political scale before the Count turned to
the pilot.

"I wish to ride in your machine."  The Count had lost interest in his
tanks, in fact he found himself actively hating them and their

Captain.  In sober mood he had refrained from executing that officer,

or even packing him off back to Asmara.  He had contented himself with
a full page of scathing comment in the man's service report, knowing
that this would destroy his career.  A complete and satisfying
vengeance, but the Count was finished with tanks.  Now he had an
aircraft.  So much more exciting and romantic.

"We will fly over the enemy positions," said the Count, at a
respectable height."  By which he meant out of rifle shot.

"Later," said the political agent, with such an air of authority that
the Count drew himself up in a dignified manner, and gave the man a
haughty stare before which he should have quailed.

"I carry personal and urgent orders from General Badogho's own lips,"
said the agent, completely unaffected by the stare.

The Count's stiffly dignified when altered immediately.

"A glass of wine, then," he said affably, and took the " man's arm
leading him to the waiting Rolls.

The General stands now before Ambo Aradam.  He has the main
concentration of the enemy at bay upon the mountain, and under heavy
artillery and aerial bombardment.  At the right moment he will fall
upon them and the outcome cannot be in doubt."

"Quite right," nodded the Count sagely; the prospect of fighting a
hundred miles away to the north filled him with the reflected warmth of
the glory of Italian arms.

"Within the next ten days, the broken armies of the Ethiopians will be
attempting to withdraw along the road to Dessie and to link up with
Baile Selassie at Lake Tona but the Sardi Gorge is like a dagger in
their ribs.  You know your duty."  The Count nodded again, but warily.
This was much closer to home.

"I have come now to make the final contact with the Ethiopian Ras who
will declare for us, the Emperor-designate of Ethiopia our secret ally.
It is necessary to coordinate our final plans, so that his defection
will cause the greatest possible confusion amongst the ranks of the
enemy, and his forces can be best deployed to support your assault up
the gorge to Sardi and the Dessie road."

"Ah!"  the Count made a sound which signified neither agreement nor
dissent.

"My men, working in the mountains, have arranged a meeting with the
Emperor-designate.  At this meeting we will make the promised payment
that secures the Ras's loyalty."  The agent made a moue of distaste.
"These people!"  and he sighed at the thought of a man who would sell
his country for gold.  Then he dismissed the thought with a

J wave of his hand.  "The meeting is fixed for tonight.  I have brought
one of my men with me who will act as a guide.

The place arranged is approximately eighty kilometres from here and we
will move out at sundown which will give us ample time to reach the
rendezvous before the appointed hour of midnight."

"Very well, the Count agreed.  "I will place transport at your
disposal."  The agent held up a hand.  "My dear Colonel, you will be
the leader of the delegation to meet the Ras."

"Impossible."  The Count would not so swiftly abandon his new
philosophy.  "I have my duties here to prepare for the offensive."  Who
knew what new horrors might lurk out in the midnight wastes of the
Danakil?

"Your presence is essential to the success of the negotiations your
uniform will impress the-" My shoulder, I am suffering from an injury
which makes travel most inconvenient I shall send one of my officers.

A Captain of tanks, the uniform is truly splendid."

"No.  "The agent shook his head.

"I have a Major a man of great presence."

"The General expressly instructed that you should lead the delegation.
If you doubt this,

your radio operator could establish immediate contact with Asmara."
The

Count sighed, opened his mouth, closed it again, and then regretfully
abandoned his vow to remain within the perimeter of Chaldi camp for the
duration of the campaign.

"Very well," he conceded.  "We will leave at sundown."  The Count was
not about to plunge recklessly into danger again.  The convoy which
left Chaldi that evening in the fiery afterglow of the sunset was led
by two CV.3 cavalry tanks, then followed four truck-loads of
infantry,

and behind them the remaining two tanks made up a formidable rear
guard.

The Rolls was sandwiched neatly in the centre of this column.  The
political agent sat on the seat beside the Count, with his feet firmly
on the heavy wooden case on the floorboards.  The guide that the agent
had produced from the fuselage of the Caproni was a thin, very dark
Galla, with one opaque eyeball of blue jelly caused by tropical
ophthalmia which gave him a particularly villainous cast of features.

He was dressed in a once-white sham ma that was now almost black with
filth, and he smelled like a goat that had recently fought a polecat.
The Count took one whiff of him and clapped his perfumed handkerchief
to his nose.

"Tell the man he is to ride in the leading tank with the

Captain," and a malicious expression gleamed in his dark eyes as he
turned to the Captain of tanks.  "In the tank, do you hear?  On the
seat beside you in the turret."  They drove without lights, jolting
slowly across the moon-silver plains under the dark wall of the
mountains.

There was a single horseman waiting for them at the rendezvous, a dark
shape in the darker shadows of a massive camel-thorn.  The agent spoke
with him in Amharic and then turned back to the Count.

"The Ras suspects treachery.  We are to leave the escort here and go on
alone with this man."

"No," cried the Count.  "No!  No!  I refuse - I simply refuse."  It
took almost ten minutes of coaxing, and the repeated mention of General
Badoglio's name, to change the Count's stance.  Miserably, the Count
climbed back into the Rolls, and Gino looked sadly at him from the
front seat as the unescorted, terribly vulnerable car moved out into
the moonlight, following the dark wild horseman on his shaggy pony.

In a rocky valley that cut into the towering bulk of the mountains,
they had to abandon the Rolls and complete the journey on foot.  Gino
and Giuseppe carrying the wooden case between them, the

Count with a drawn pistol in his hand, they staggered on up the
treacherous slope of rocks and scree.

In a hidden saucer of rock, around the rim of which were posted the
shadowy, hostile figures of sentries, was a large leather tent.

Around it were tethered scores of the wild, shaggy ponies and the
interior was lit by smoky paraffin lamps and crowded with rank upon
rank of squatting warriors.  Their faces were so black in the dim light
that only the whites of their eyes and the gleam of their teeth showed
clearly.

The political agent strode ahead of the Count, down the open aisle, to
where a robed figure reclined on a pile of cushions under a pair of
lanterns.  He was flanked by two women, still very young, but
full-blown heavy-breasted, and pale-skinned, dressed in brilliant
silks, both of them wearing crudely wrought silver jewellery dangling
from their ears and strung about their long graceful necks.  Their eyes
were dark and bold, and at another time and in different circumstances
the Count's interest would have been intense.

But now his knees felt rubbery, and his heart thumped like a war drum.
The political agent had to lead him forward by the arm.

"The Emperor-designate," whispered the agent, and the Count looked down
on the bloated, effeminate dandy who lolled upon the cushions, his fat
fingers covered with rings and his eyelids painted like those of a
woman.  "Ras Kullah, of the Gallas."

"Make the correct reply,"

instructed the Count, his voice hoarse with strain, and the Ras eyed
the Count with apprehension as the agent made a long flowery speech.

The Ras was impressed with the imposing figure in its sinister black
uniform.  In the lamplight, the insignia glittered and the heavy
enamelled cross on its ribbon of watered silk blinked like a beacon.

The Ras's eyes dropped to the jewelled dagger and ivory-handled pistol
at the Count's belt, the weapons of a rich and noble warrior and he
looked up again into the Count's eyes.  They also glittered with an
almost feverish fanatical light, the Count's regular features were
flushed angrily and a murderous scowl furrowed his brow.  He breathed
like a fighting bull.  The Ras mistook the signs of fatigue and extreme
fear for the warlike rage of a berserker.  He was impressed and awed.

Then his attention was drawn irresistibly away from the Count, as

Gino and Giuseppe staggered into the tent, sweating in the lamplight,

and bowed over the heavy chest they carried between them.  Ras Kullah
hoisted himself into a kneeling position, with his soft paunch bulging
forward under the sham ma and his eyes glittering like those of a
reptile.

With an abrupt command, he cut short the agent's speech, and beckoned
the two Italians to him.  With relief they deposited the heavy chest
before the Ras, amid a hubbub of voices from the dark mass of watchers.
They pressed forward eagerly, the better to see the contents of the
chest, as the Ras prised open the clips with the jewelled dagger from
his belt, and lifted the lid with his fat pale hands.

The chest was closely packed with paper-wrapped rolls, like white
candles.  The Ras lifted one and slit the paper cover with the point of
his dagger.  There was a silent explosion of flat metal discs from the
package.  They cascaded into the Ras's ample lap, glittering golden and
bright in the lantern light, and he cooed with pleasure, scooping a
handful of the coins.  Even the Count, with his own vast personal
fortune, was impressed by the contents of the chest.

"By Peter and the Virgin," he muttered.

"English sovereigns," the agent affirmed.  "But not a high price for a
land the size of France."  The Ras giggled and tossed a handful of
coins to his nearest followers, and they fought and squabbled over the
coins on their hands and knees.  Then the Ras looked up at the Count
and patted the cushions, grinning happily, motioning him to be
seated,

and the Count responded gratefully.  The long walk up the valley and
his fevered emotions had weakened his legs.  He sank down on the
cushions and listened to the long list of further demands that the Ras
had prepared.

"He wants modern rifles, and machine guns," translated the agent.

"What is our position?"  asked the Count.

"Of course we cannot give them to him.  In a month's time, or a year,
he may be an enemy not an ally.  You cannot be certain with these

Gallas."

"Say the correct thing."

"He wants your assurance that the female agent provocateur and the two
white brigands in the Harari camp are delivered to him for justice as
soon as they are captured."

"There is no reason against this?"

"Indeed, it will save us trouble and embarrassment."

"What will he do with them they are responsible for the torture and
massacre of some of my brave lads?"  The Count was recovering his
confidence, and the sense of outrage returned to him.

"I have eye-witness accounts of the terrible atrocities committed on
helpless prisoners of war.

The wanton shooting of bound prisoners justice must be done.

They must meet retribution."  The agent grinned without mirth.  "I

assure you, my dear Count, that in the hands of Ras Kullah they will
meet a fate far more terrible than you would imagine in your worst
nightmares," and he turned back to the Ras and said in Amharic, "You
have our word on it.  They are yours to do with as you see fit."  The

Ras smiled, like a fat golden cat, and the tip of his tongue ran across
his swollen purple lips, from one corner of his mouth to the other.

By this time, the Count had recovered his breath, and realized that
contrary to all his expectations the Ras was friendly and that he was
not in imminent danger of having his throat slit and his personal parts
forcibly removed, the Count regained much of his aplomb.

"Tell the Ras that I want from him, in exchange, a full account of the
enemy's strength the number of men, guns and armoured vehicles that are
guarding the approaches to the gorge.  I want to know the enemy's order
of battle, the exact location of all his earthworks and strong points
and particularly I want to be informed of the positions occupied by the
Ras's own Gallas at the present time.  I want also the names and ranks
of all foreigners serving with the enemy-" He went on ticking off the
points one at a time on his fingers, and the Ras listened with growing
awe.  Here was a warrior, indeed.

We have to bait the trap, said Gareth Swales.

He and Jake Barton squatted side by side in the shade cast by the hull
of Priscilla the Pig.

Gareth had a short length of twig in his right hand, and he had been
using it to draw out his strategy for receiving the renewed thrust by
the Italians.

"It's no good sending horsemen.  It worked once, it's not going to work
again."  Jake said nothing, but frowned heavily at the complicated
designs that Gareth had traced on the sandy earth.

"We have conditioned the tank commander.  The next look he gets at an
armoured car, and he's going to be after it like-"

"Like a long dog after a bitch, "said Jake.

"Exactly," Gareth nodded.  "I was just going to say that myself"

"You already did, "Jake reminded him.

"We'll send out one car one is enough and hold another in reserve
here."  Gareth touched the sand map.  "If anything goes wrong with the
first car"

"Like a high-explosive shell between the buttocks?"  Jake asked.

"Precisely.  If that happens the second car pops in like this and keeps
them coming on."

"The way you tell it, it sounds great."

"Piece of cake, old son, nothing to it.  Trust the celebrated Swales
genius."

"Who takes the first car?  "Jake asked.

"Spin you for it," Gareth suggested, and a silver Maria Theresa
appeared as if by magic in his hand.

"Heads," said Jake.

"Oh, tough luck, old son.  Heads it is."  Jake's hand was quick as a
striking mamba.  It snapped closed on Gareth's wrist and held his hand
in which the silver coin was cupped.

"I say," protested Gareth.  "Surely you don't believe that I might and
then he shrugged resignedly.

"No offence," Jake assured him, turned Gareth's hand towards him and
examined the coin cupped in his palm.

"Lovely lady, Theresa," murmured Gareth.  "Lovely high forehead,

very sensual mouth bet she was a real goer, what?"  Jake released his
wrist, and stood up, dusting his breeches to cover his embarrassment.

"Come on, Greg.  We'd better get ready," he called across to where the
young Harari was supervising the preparations taking place on the
higher ground above where the cars were parked.

"Good luck, old son," Gareth called after them.  "Keep your head well
down."  Jake Barton sat on the edge of Priscilla's turret with his long
legs dangling into the hatch, and he looked up at the mountains.

Only their lower slopes were visible, rising steeply into the vast
towering mass of cloud that rose sheer into the sky.

The cloud mass bulged, swelling forward and spilling with the slow
viscosity of treacle down the harsh ranges of rock.  The mountains had
disappeared, swallowed by the cloud monster, and the soft mass heaved
like a belly digesting its prey.

For the first time since they had entered the Danakil, the sun was
obscured.  The cold came off the clouds in gusts, touching Jake with
icy fingers of air, so that the gooseflesh pimpled his muscular
forearms and he shivered briefly.

Gregorius sat beside him on the turret, looking up also at the silver
and dark blue of the thunderheads.

"The big rains will begin now."

"Here?"

"No, not down here in the desert, but upon the mountains the rain will
fall with great fury."  For a few moments longer, Jake stared up at the
pinnacles and glaring slopes of grandeur and menace, then he turned his
back upon them and swept the rolling tree-dotted plains to the
eastward.  As yet, there was no) sign of the Italian advance that the
scouts had reported, and he turned again and focused his binoculars on
the lower slopes of the gorge at the point from which Gareth would
signal the enemy's movements to him.  There was nothing to be seen but
broken rock and the tumbled slopes of scree and rubble.

He dropped his scrutiny lower to where the last small dunes of red sand
lapped like wavelets against the great rock reef of the mountains.

There were wrinkles in the surface of the plain, sparsely covered with
the pale seared desert grasses, but in their troughs thick coarse bush
had taken root.  The bush was tall and dense enough to hide the
hundreds of patiently waiting Harari under its cover.

Gareth had worked out the method of dealing with the Italian tanks, and
it was he who had sent Gregorius up the gorge to the village of Sardi
with a gang of a hundred men and fifty camels.  Under Greg's
direction,

they had torn up the rails from the shunting yard of the railway
station, packed the heavy steel rails on to the camels and brought them
down the perilous path to the desert floor.

Gareth had explained how the rails were to be used, split his force
into gangs of twenty men each and exercised them with the rails until
they were as efficient as he could hope for.  All that was needed now
was for Priscilla the Pig to lead the Italian tanks into the low
dunes.

Without armour, Gareth estimated they could hold the Italians for a
week at the mouth of the gorge.  His order of battle placed the

Harari on the left and centre, in good positions that interlocked with
those of the Galla on the right flank.  The Vickers guns had lanes of
fire laid down that would make any infantry assault by the Italians
suicidal without armoured cover.

They would have to blast their way into the gorge with artillery and
aerial bombardment.  It would take them a week at the least that is, if
they could dissuade Ras Golam from attacking the Italians, a task which
promised to be difficult, for the old Ras's fighting blood was coursing
through his ancient veins.

Once they forced the mouth of the gorge and drove the Ethiopian forces
into its gut, they had another week's hard pounding to reach the top
and the town of Sardi provided once again that the Ras could be
restrained in the role of defender.

Once the Italians broke out of the head of the gorge, the armoured cars
could be flung in to hold them for a day or two more, but when they
were expended, it was all over.  It was an easy drive for the

Italians through the rolling highlands on to the Dessie road, to close
the jaws of the trap hopefully after the prey had fled.

Gareth had reported all this to Lij Mikhael, contacting him by
telegraph at the Emperor's headquarters on the shores of Lake Tona.

The Prince had telegraphed back the Emperor's gratitude and assurances
that within two weeks the destiny of Ethiopia would be decided.

"HOLD THE GORGE FOR TWO WEEKS AND YOUR DUTY WILL BE FULLY

DISCHARGED STOP YOU WILL HAVE EARNED THE GRATITUDE OF THE EMPEROR AND

ALL THE PEOPLES OF ETHIOPIA."  A week here on the plains, but it all
depended on this first encounter with the Italian armour.  Gareth's
and

Jake's observations, backed up by those of the scouts, placed the total
number of surviving Italian tanks at four.  They must take them out at
a single stroke, the whole defence of the gorge pivoted on this.

Jake found that he had been day-dreaming, his mind wandering over the
problems they faced and the chances they must take.  It took

Gregorius's hand on his shoulder to rouse him.

"Jake!  The signal."  Quickly he looked back at the slope of the
mountains, and he did not need the binoculars.  Gareth was signalling
with a primitive heliograph he had contrived with the shaving-mirror
from his toilet bag.  The bright flashes of light pricked Jake's
eyeballs even at that range.

"They are coming in across the valley, line abreast.  All four tanks,
supported by motorized infantry."  Jake read the signal, and jumped
into the driver's hatch while Gregorius slid down the side of the hull
and ran to the crank handle.

"That's my darling."  Jake thanked Priscilla, as the engine spluttered
busily into life, and then he called up to Gregorius as he climbed into
the turret above him.  "I'll warn you every time I tUrn to engage."

"Yes, Jake."  The boy's eyes burned with the fire of his anger,

and Jake grinned.

"As bad as his grand pappy  He let in the clutch.  They gathered speed
swiftly and flew over the crest of the rise, and behind them rolled a
long billow of dust, proclaiming their whereabouts to all the world.

The line of Italian tanks was coming straight in, a mile and a half out
on their flank.

"Engaging now, "shouted Jake.

"Ready."  Gregorius was crouched over the Vickers in the turret,

straining it to the limit of its traverse, ready to fire at the very
instant the gun could bear.

Jake put the wheel over hard, and Priscilla swung towards the distant
dark beetle shapes of the Italian armour, sailing jauntily right into
their teeth.

Above Jake the Vickers roared, and the spent cartridges spewed down
into the hull, ringing and pinging against the steel sides, while the
sudden acrid stink of burned cordite made Jake's eyes sting and flood
with tears.

Through blurred eyes he watched the electric white tracer arc out
across the open ground, and fall about the leading tank.  Even at that
range, Jake made out the tiny spurting fountains of dust and dirt
kicked up by the hose of bullets.

"Good lad," grunted Jake; it was accurate shooting from the bouncing,
bounding car at extreme range.  Of course, it could do no damage to the
thick steel armour of the CV.3, but it would certainly startle and
anger the crew, goad them into retaliation.

As he thought it, Jake saw the turret of the tank traverse around as
the commander called the target.  The stubby barrel of the Spandau
foreshortened rapidly, and then disappeared.  Jake was looking directly
down the muzzle.

He counted slowly to three, it would take that long for the gunner to
get on to him, then he yelled, "Disengaging!"  and flung Priscilla hard
over, so that she came up on two wheels, ungainly and awkward as she
swung away from the enemy line.  From the corner of his eye Jake saw
the glow of the muzzle flash, and almost instantly afterwards heard the
crack of passing shot.

"Son of a gun that was close!"  he muttered, and reached up to throw
the hatch and visor open.  There was no point in closing down,

these Spandaus could penetrate any point of the car's hull as though it
were made of paper, and Jake would need a good and unlimited view
during the next desperate minutes.

Running parallel to the Italian line, he looked across and saw that all
four tanks were firing now, and they were bunching, each tank turning
towards him as he raced across their front, losing their rigid pattern
of advance in their eagerness to keep Priscilla under fire.

"Come along," muttered Jake.  "Three balls for a dollar,

gentlemen, every throw a coconut!"  It was too close to the truth to be
funny, but he grinned nevertheless.  "Jake Barton's famous coconut
shy."  A shell burst close alongside, showering sand and gravel into
the open hatch.  They were ranging in on him now, it was time to
confuse the range again.

He spat sand from his mouth and yelled, "Engaging!"  Priscilla spun
handily towards the Italian line, and went bounding in towards them
with that prim rocking action, her ugly old silhouette grim and
uncompromising as the visage of a Victorian matron.

They were close, horribly frighteningly close, so that Jake could hear
the Vickers bullets hammering against the black carapace of the leading
tank.  Gregorius had picked out the formation leader by his command
pennant, and was concentrating all his fire upon him.

"Good thinking," grunted Jake.  "Get the bastard's blood up."  As he
spoke, there was a thunderous clank close beside his head, as though a
giant had swung a hammer against the steel hull, and the car reeled to
the blow.

"We've taken a hit," Jake thought desperately, and his ears buzzed from
the impact and there was the hot acrid stench of burned paint and hot
metal in his nostrils.  He swung the wheel over and Priscilla responded
as handsomely as ever, turning sharply away from the Italian line.

Jake stood up in his compartment, sticking his head out into the open
and he saw immediately how lucky they had been.  The shell had struck
one of the brackets he had welded on to the sponson to carry the arms
crates.  It had torn the bracket away, and dented the hull,

leaving the metal glowing with the heat of the strike but the hull was
intact, they had not been penetrated.

"Are you all right, Greg?"  he yelled as he dropped back into his
seat.

"They are following, Jake," the boy called down to him, ignoring the
hit.  "They are after us all of them."

"Home and mother here we come," Jake said, and turned directly away
from them, once again changing the range and aim of the Italian gunners
abruptly.

Shot burst close, driving the air in upon their eardrums, and making
them both flinch involuntarily.

"We are pulling too far ahead, Jake," called Greg, and Jake glancing up
saw that he had his hatch open and his head out.

"Lame bird," Jake decided reluctantly.  If they outstripped the

Italians too rapidly, there was a danger they would abandon the
chase.

Another shell burst close alongside, covering them with a veil of pale
dust, and Jake faked a hit, cutting back the throttle so that their
seed bled off, and he swung Priscilla into an erratic broken pattern of
flight, like a bird with a broken wing.

"They're gaining on us now, "Greg reported gleefully.

"Don't sound so damned happy about it," Jake muttered, but his voice
was lost in the whine and crack of passing shot.

"They're still coming," howled Greg.  "And they're still shooting."

"I noticed."  Jake peered ahead, still flinging the car mercilessly
from side to side.  The ridge of the first dune was half a mile ahead,
but it seemed like an hour later that he felt the earth tilt up under
him and they went slithering and skidding up the slip-face of the dune
and crashed over the crest into safety.

Jake swung Nscilla into a broadside skid, like a skier performing a
christy, bringing her to an abrupt halt in the lee of the dune and then
he backed and manoeuvred up until he was in a hull-down position behind
the sand, with only the turret exposed.

"That's it, Jake," cried Greg delightedly, as he found his Vickers
would bear again.  He crouched over it, and fired short crisp bursts at
the four black tanks that roared angrily towards them across the
plain.

From the stationary position behind the dune, Gregorius made every
burst of fire sweep the oncoming hulls, driving the Latin tempers of
the crews into frenzy, like the sting of a tsetse fly on the belly of a
bull buffalo.

"That's about close enough," decided Jake, judging the charge of enemy
armour finely.  They were less than five hundred yards off now and
already they were dropping shell close around the tiny target afforded
by the car's turret.

"Let's get the hell out of here."  He swung Priscilla hard and she
plunged down the side of the dune into the trough.  As she crashed
through the dense dark scrub, Jake caught a glimpse of the men lying in
wait under the screen of vegetation.  They were stripped to
loin-Cloths, huddled down over the long steel rails, and two of them
had to roll frantically aside to avoid being crushed beneath

Priscilla's tall, heavily bossed wheels.

The momentum of her charge down the side of the dune carried her up on
the second dune with loose sand pouring out in a cloud from her
spinning rear wheels.  She reached the crest and went over it at
speed,

dropping with a gut swooping dive down the far side.

Jake cut the engine before she had come to rest, and he and

Gregorius sprang out of the opened hatches and went panting back up the
dune, labouring in the heavy loose footing, and panting as they reached
the crest and looked down into the trough at almost the same instant as
the four Italian tanks came over the crest opposite them.

Their racks boiling in the loose sand, they came crashing over the top
of the dune, and roared down into the trough.

They tore into the thick bank of scrub, and immediately the bush was
alive with naked black figures.  They swarmed around the monstrous
wallowing hulls like ants around the bodies of shiny black scarab
beetles.

Twenty men to each steel rail, using it like a battering ram, they
charged in from each side of every tank, thrusting the end of the rail
into the sprocketed jockey wheels of the tracks.

The rail was caught up immediately, and with the screech of metal on
metal was whipped out of the hands of the men who wielded it, hurling
them effortlessly aside.  To an engineer, the sound that the machines
made as they tore themselves to pieces was like the anguish of living
things, like that terrible death squeal of a horse.

The steel rails tore the jockey wheels out of them, and the tracks
sprang out of their seating on the sprockets and whipped into the
air,

flogging themselves to death in a cloud of dust and torn vegetation.

It was over very swiftly, the four machines lay silent and stalled,
crippled beyond hope of repair and around them lay the broken bodies of
twenty or more of the Ethiopians who had been caught up by the flailing
tracks as they broke loose.  The bodies were torn and shredded, as
though clawed and mauled by some monstrous predator.

Those who had survived the savage death of the tanks, hundreds of
almost naked figures, swarmed over the stranded hulls, loolooing wildly
and pounding on the steel turrets with their bare hands.

The Italian gunners still inside the hulls fired their machine guns
despairingly, but there was no power on their traversing gear and the
turrets were frozen.  The guns could not be aimed.  They were blinded
also for Jake had armed a dozen Ethiopians each with a bucket of engine
oil and dirt mixed to a thick paste.  This they had slapped in gooey
handfuls over the drivers" and gunners" visors.  The tank crews were
helplessly imprisoned and the attackers pranced and howled like
demented things.  The din was such that Jake did not even hear the
approach of the other car.

It stopped on the crest of the dune opposite where Jake stood.

The hatches were flung open, and Gareth Swales and Ras Golam leaped out
of the hull.

The Ras had his sword with him, and he swung it around his head as he
charged down the slope to join his men around the crippled tanks.

Across the valley that separated them, Gareth threw Jake a cavalier
salute, but beneath the mockery, Jake sensed real respect.

Each of them ran down into the trough and they met where the gallon
cans of gasoline were buried under a fine layer of sand and cut
branches.

Gareth spared a second to punch Jake lightly on the shoulder.

"Hit the beggars for six, what?  Good for you," and then they stooped
to drag the cans out of the shallow hole, and with one in each hand
staggered through the waist-deep scrub to the tank carcasses.

Jake passed a can up to Gregorius who was already perched on the turret
of the nearest tank where his grandfather was trying to prise open the
turret hatch with the blade of his broad-sword.  His eyes flashed and
rolled wildly in his wrinkled black head, and a high-pitched incoherent
"Looloo" keened from the mouthful of flashing artificial teeth for the
Ras was transported into the fighting mania of the berserker.

Gregorius hefted the gasoline can up on to the tank's sponson, and
plunged his dagger through the thin metal of the lid.  The clear liquid
spurted and hissed from the rent, under pressure of its own volatile
gases.

"Wet it down good!"  shouted Jake, and Gregorius; grinned and
splattered gasoline over the hull.  The stink of it was sharp, as it
evaporated from the hot metal in a shimmering haze.

Jake ran on to the next tank, unscrewing the cap of the can as he
clambered up over the shattered jockey wheels.

Avoiding the stationary barrel of the forward machine gun, he stood
tall on the top of the turret and splashed gasoline over the hull,
until it shone wetly in the sunlight and little rivulets of the stuff
found the joints and gaps in the plating and splattered into the
interior.

"Get back," shouted Gareth.  "Everybody back."  He had doused the other
steel carcasses and he stood now on the slope of the dune with an unlit
cheroot in the corner of his mouth and a box of Swan Vestas in his left
hand.

Jake jumped lightly down from the hull, laying a trail of gasoline from
the can he carried as he backed up to where Gareth waited.

"Hurry.  Everybody out of the way," Gareth called again.

Gregorius was laying a wet trail of gasoline back to Gareth.

"Somebody go get that old bastard out of the way" Gareth called with
exasperation.  A single figure pranced and howled and loolooed on the
nearest tank, and Jake and Gregorius dropped the empty cans and raced
back.  Ducking under the swinging arc of the sword, Jake got an arm
around the Ras's skinny, bony chest, swung him bodily off his feet and
passed him down to his grandson.  Between them they carried him away to
safety, still how ling and struggling.

Gareth struck one of the Swan Vestas and casually lit the cheroot in
his mouth.  When it was drawing nicely, he cupped the match to let the
game flare brightly.

"Here we go, chaps," he murmured.  "Guy Fawkes, Guy.

Stick him in the eye.  Hang him on a lamp post' he flicked the burning
match on to the gasoline-sodden earth, and leave him there to die." For
a moment nothing happened, and then with a thump that concussed the air
against their eardrums, the gasoline ignited.

Instantly the belt of scrub turned to atoll roaring red inferno, and
the flames boiled and swirled, leaped and drummed high into the desert
air, engulfing the four stranded tanks in sheets of fire that obscured
their menacing silhouettes.

The Ethiopians watched from the dunes, awed by the terrible pageant of
destruction they had created.  Only the Ras still danced and howled at
the edge of the flames, the blade of his sword reflecting the red
leaping flames.

The hatches of the nearest tank were thrown open, and out into the
searing air leaped three figures, indistinct and shadowy through the
flames.  Beating wildly at their burning uniforms, the tank crew came
staggering out on to the slope of the dune.

The Ras flew to meet them, the sword hissing and glinting as it swung.
The head of the tank commander seemed to leap from his fire-blackened
shoulders, as the blade cut through.  The head struck the ground behind
him and rolled back down the dune like a ball, while the decapitated
trunk dropped to its knees with a fine crimson spray from the neck
pumping straight up into the air.

The Ras raced on towards the other survivors, and his men roared
angrily and swarmed forward after him.  Jake uttered a horrified oath
and started forward to restrain them.

"Easy, old son."  Gareth caught Jake's arm, and swung him away.

"This is no time for one of your boy scout acts."  From below them rose
the ugly blood roar of the destroyers, as they fell upon the survivors
of the other tanks, and the Italians" screams cut like a whiplash
across Jake's nerves.

"Let's leave them to it."  Gareth drew Jake away.  "Not our business,
old boy.  The beggars have got to take their own chances.

Rules of the game."  Across the crest of the dune they leaned together
against the steel hull of Priscilla.  Jake was panting heavily from his
exertions and his horror.  Gareth found him a slightly crumpled cheroot
in the inside pocket of his tweed jacket, and straightened it carefully
before placing it between Jake's lips.

"Told you before, your sentimental but endearing ways will get us both
into trouble.  They'd have torn you to pieces also if you'd gone down
there."  He lit Jake's cheroot.

"Well, old boy-" he changed the subject diplomatically.

"That takes care of our biggest problem.  No tanks no worries,

that's an old Swales family motto," and he chuckled lightly.  "We'll be
able to hold them at the mouth of the gorge for another week now.  No
trouble at all."  Abruptly the sunlight was obscured, and instantly the
temperature dropped sharply.  Both of them glanced up involuntarily at
the sky, at the gloom and the sudden chill.

In the last hour, the masses of cloud had come slumping down from the
mountains, blotting them out completely, and spreading out on to the
fringes of the Danakil desert.

From this thick, dark mattress of swirling cloud, fine pale streamers
of rain were already spiralling down towards the plain.  Jake felt a
droplet splatter against his forehead and he wiped it away with the
back of his hand.

"I say, we're in for a drop or two," murmured Gareth, and as if in
confirmation the deep mutter of thunder echoed down from the
cloud-shrouded mountains, and lightning flared sulkily, trapped within
the towering cloud masses and lighting them internally with a
smouldering infernal glow.

"That's going to make things-" Gareth cut himself off, and both of them
cocked their heads.

"Hello, that's decidedly odd."  Faintly on the brooding air,

carrying above the mutter of thunder, came the popping of musketry and
the sound of machine-gun fire, like the sound of tearing silk, made
indistinct and un warlike by distance and the muting banks of heavy
cloud.

"Deuced odd."  Gareth repeated.  "There should not be any firing from
there."  It was in their rear, seeming to come from the very mouth of
the gorge itself.

"Come on," snapped Jake, picking his binoculars out of Priscilla's
hatch and scrambling through the loose red sand for the crest of the
tallest dune.

The cloud and misty streamers of rain obscured the mouth of the gorge,
but now the sound of gunfire was continuous.

"That's not just a skirmish," muttered Gareth.

"It's a full-scale fire fight," Jake agreed, peering through the
binoculars.

"What is it, Jake?"  Gregorius came up the dune to where they stood. He
was followed by his grandfather but the old man moved slowly, exhausted
and stiff with age and the aftermath of burned-out passions.

"We don't know, Greg.  "Jake did not lower the binoculars.

"I don't understand it."  Gareth shook his head.  "Any Italian probe
from the south would have run into our positions in the foothills, and
from the north it would have run into the Gallas.  Ras

Kullah is in a pretty strong spot there.  We would have heard the
fighting.  They can't have gone through there-"

"And we are here in the centre, "Jake added, "they didn't come through
here."

"It doesn't make sense."  At that moment, the Ras reached the crest. He
paused wearily and removed the teeth from his mouth, wrapped them
carefully in a kerchief and tucked them away in some secret recess of
his sham ma  The mouth collapsed into a dark empty pit, and immediately
he looked his age again.

Quickly Gregorius explained this new phenomenon to the old man,

and while he listened he ran the blade of his sword into the dune
between his feet, scrubbing it clean of the clotted black blood in the
dry friable sand.  He spoke suddenly in his tremulou's old man's
voice.

"My grandfather says that Ras Kullah is a piece of dried dung of a
venereal hyena," Gregorius translated quickly.

"And he says my uncle, Lij Mikhael, was wrong to treat with him,

and that you were wrong to trust him."

"Now what the hell does that mean?"  Jake demanded fretfully, and
lifted the binoculars sweeping again towards the mouth of the Sardi
Gorge away across the undulating golden plain then he exclaimed again.
"Damn it to hell, everything is blowing up.  That crazy woman!  She
promised me, she swore on oath that she would keep out of it for once
and now here she comes again!"

Emerging through the curtains of rain, indistinct under the dark
rolling mass of cloud, throwing no dust column on the rain-dampened
earth, the tiny sand-coloured shape of Miss Wobbly came bowling towards
them with its distinctive stately gait.  Even at this distance, Jake
could make out the dark speck of Sara's head in the hatch of the
high,

old-fashioned turret.

Jake started to run down the slip-face of the dune to meet the oncoming
car.

"Jake!"  Vicky screeched above the engine beat, before she came to a
halt, her head thrust out of the driver's hatch, her golden hair
shaking in the wind and her eyes huge in the pale intense face.

"What the hell are you doing?  "Jake shouted back angrily.

"The Gallas," Vicky screeched.  "They've gone!  Every last man of them!
Gone!"  She braked hard and tumbled down to the ground so that

Jake had to catch and steady her.

"What do you mean gone?"  Gareth demanded, coming up at that moment and
Sara answered him from Miss Wobbly's turret with her dark eyes
sparkling hotly.

"They went, like smoke, like the dirty hill bandits they are."

"The left flank-"Gareth exclaimed.

"Nobody there.  The Italians have come through without firing a shot.
Hundreds and hundreds of them.  They are at the gorge, they have
overrun the camp."

"Jake, they would have cut off all our own Harari,

it would have been a massacre Sara gave the order, in her grandfather's
name, she ordered them to abandon the right flank."

"Oh,

good Christ!"

"They are trying to fight their way back into the gorge now but the
Italians are covering the mouth with machine guns.  It's terrible,
Jake, oh the desert is thick with the dead."

"We've lost it all.  Everything we gained, at a single throw, it's all
gone.  This was a feint, the tanks were sent to draw us off.  The main
attack was through the left but how did they know the Gallas had
deserted?"

"As my grandfather says, never trust either a snake or a Galla."

"Oh Jake,

we must hurry."  Vicky shook his arm.  "They'll cut us off."

"Right," snapped Gareth.  "We'll have to get back into the gorge and
rally them on the first line of defence in the gorge itself otherwise
they'll run straight back to Addis Ababa."  He swung around to
Gregorius.  "If we try and take these men, and he indicated the
hundreds of halfnaked, unarmed Harad who were now straggling out of the
dunes, "if we try to take them back through the mouth of the gorge,
they'll be shot to pieces by the Italian guns.  Can they find their own
way on foot up the mountain slopes?"

"They are mountain men,

Gregorius answered simply.

"Good.  Tell them to work their way back and assemble at the first
waterfall in the gorge.  That's the rallying point the first
waterfall."  He turned back to the others.  "On the other hand, we'll
have to use the gorge the only way to save the cars.  We'll rush the
mouth in a tight formation and pray that the Eyeties haven't had a
chance to bring up their artillery yet.  Let's go!"  He grabbed Ras

Golam by the shoulder and dragged him, at an awkward run, back towards
where they had left their armoured car parked on the crest of the first
dune.

"Get back in the car," Jake instructed Vicky.  "Keep the engine
running.  We'll bring up the two other cars.  I want you in the centre
of the line, then go like hell.  Don't stop for anything until we are
into the gorge.  Do you hear me?"  Vicky nodded grimly.

"Good girl he said, and would have turned away, but Vicky held his arm
and pressed herself to him.  She reached up and kissed him full on the
lips, her mouth open and wet and soft and sweet.

"I love you, "she whispered huskily.

"Oh my darling, what a hell of a time you picked to tell me."

"I

only just found out," she explained, and he crushed her fiercely to his
chest.

"Oh, that's lovely," cried Sara from the turret above them.

"That's beautiful."  She clapped her hands delightedly.

"Until later," whispered Jake.  "Now get out of here!"  and he turned
her away and pushed her towards the car.  He turned himself and ran
lightly back into the dunes, with his heart singing.

"Oh, Miss Camberwell, I am so pleased for you."  Sara reached down to
help Vicky up on to the hull.  "I knew it was going to be Mr. Barton.

I picked him for you long ago, but I wanted you to find out for
yourself."

"Sara, my dear.  Please don't say any more."  Vicky hugged her briefly
before dropping into the driver's hatch.  "Or the whole thing will turn
upside down again."  Ras Golam was so tired and drained that he could
move only at a creaking walk up the dune, even though

Gareth tried to prod him into a trot.  He plodded on up the dune
dragging the sword behind him.

Suddenly there was a sound in the sky above them, as though the heavens
had been split by all the winds of hell.

A rising, rattling shriek that passed and then erupted in a towering
column of sand and yellow swirling fumes against the side of the dune
ahead of them, fifty paces below the car that was silhouetted upon the
crest.

"Guns,"said Gareth unnecessarily.  "Time to go, Grandpa," and he would
have prodded the Ras again, but there was no need.  The sound of
gunfire had rejuvenated the Ras instantly; he leaped high in the air,

uttering that dreadful screech of a challenge and hunting frantically
for his teeth in the folds of his sham ma

"Oh no, you don't."  Grimly, Gareth forestalled the next wild suicidal
charge by grabbing the Ras and dragging him protestingly towards the
car.  The Ras had tasted blood now, and he wanted to go in on foot with
the sword the way a real warrior fights and he was frantically
searching the open horizons for the enemy, as Gareth towed him away
backwards.

The next shell burst beyond the crest, out of sight in the trough.

"The first one under, and the second over," muttered Gareth,

struggling to control the Ras's wild lunges.  "Where does the next one
go?"  They had almost reached the car when it came in, arcing across
the wide lioncoloured plain, through the low grey cloud, howling and
rattling the heavens; it plunged down at an acute angle, going in
through the thin plating behind the turret of the car, and it burst
against the steel floor of the cab.

The car burst like a paper bag.  The entire turret was lifted from its
seating and went high in the air in a flash of crimson flame and sooty
smoke.

Gareth dragged the Ras down on to the sand and held him there while
scraps of flying steel and other debris splattered around them.

It lasted only seconds and the Ras tried to rise again, but Gareth held
him down while the shattered hull of the car brewed up into a fiery
explosion of burning gasoline and the Vickers ammunition in the bins
began popping and flying like fireworks.

It lasted a long time, and when at last the crackle of ammunition died
away, Gareth lifted his head cautiously; immediately another belt
caught and rattled away with white tracer flying and spluttering,

forcing them flat again.

"Come on, Rassey," sighed Gareth at last.  "Let's see if we can beg a
ride home."  At that moment, the ugly, well beloved shape of

Priscilla the Pig roared abruptly over the crest of the dune and slewed
to a halt above them.

"God," Jake shouted from the driver's hatch.  "I thought you were in it
when she blew.  I came to pick up the pieces."  Dragging the Ras,

Gareth climbed up the side of the tall hull.

"This is becoming a habit," Gareth grunted.  "That's two I owe you.

"I'll send you an account," Jake promised, and then ducked
instinctively as the next shell came shrieking in to burst so close
that dust and smoke blew into their faces.

"I get this strange feeling we should move on now," suggested

Gareth mildly.  "That is, if you have no other plans."  Jake sent the
car plunging steeply down the face of the dune, turning hard as he hit
the firmer earth of the plain and setting a running course for where
the mouth of the gorge was hidden by the smoky writhing curtains of
cloud and rain.

Vicky Camberwell saw them coming and swung Miss Wobbly and gunned her
on to a parallel course.  Wheel to wheel, the two elderly machines
bounded across the flat land, and the rain began to crackle against the
steel hulls in minute white bursts that blurred their outlines as the
next Italian shell burst fifty feet ahead of them,

forcing them to swerve to avoid the fuming crater.

"Can you see where the battery is?"  yelled Jake, and Gareth answered
him, clinging to one of the welded brackets above the hatch,

rain streaming down his face and soaking the front of his white
shirt.

"They are in the ground that the Gallas deserted, they've probably
taken over the trenches I dug with such loving care."

"Could we have a go at them?  "Jake suggested.

"No we can't, old son.  I sited those positions myself.

They're tight.  You just keep going for the gorge.  Our only hope is to
get into the second line of positions that I have prepared at the first
waterfall."  Then he shook his head sorrowfully, screwing up his eyes
against the stinging raindrops.  "You and this crazy old bastard,"

he turned his head to the Ras beside him, "you'll be the death of me,

you two will The Ras grinned happily at him, convinced that they were
charging into a battle again, and deliriously happy at the prospect.

"How do you do?"  he cackled, and punched Gareth's shoulder
gleefully.

"Could be better, old boy," Gareth assured him.  "Could be a lot
better," and they both ducked as the next shell came howling low over
their heads.

"Those fellows are improving Gareth observed mildly.

"God knows they've had plenty of practice recently, "Jake shouted,

and Gareth rolled his eyes upwards to the heavy bruised cloud banks.

"Let there be rain," he intoned, and instantly the thunder cracked and
the clouds lit internally with a brilliant electric burst of light.

The splattering drops increased their tempo, and the air turned milky
with slanting drumming lances of rain.

"Amazing, Major Swales.  I would not have believed it," said

Gregorius Maryam from the turret above Gareth's head, and his voice was
hushed with awe.

"Nothing to it, my lad," Gareth disclaimed.  "Just a direct line to the
top."  Rain filled the air in a white teeming fog, so that Jake had to
screw up his eyes against the driving needles, and his black curls
clung in a sodden mass to his scalp.

Rain wiped out the mountains and the rocky portals of the gorge,

so that Jake steered by instinct alone.  It roared against the racing
steel hull, and closed down visibility to a circle of twenty yards.

The Italian shellfire stopped abruptly, as the gunners were
unsighted.

Rain pounded every inch of exposed skin, striking with a force that
stung painfully, snapping against their faces with a jarring impact
that made the teeth ache in their jaws, and sent them crouching for
what little cover there was on the exposed hull.

"Good Lord, how long does this go on for?"  protested Gareth, and he
spat the sodden butt of his cheroot over the side.

"Four months," shouted Gregorius.  "It rains for four months now."

"Or until you tell it to stop."  Jake grinned wryly, and glanced across
at the other machine.

Sara waved reassuringly from the turret of Miss Wobbly, her face
screwed up against the driving raindrops and the thick mane of hair
plastered to her shoulders and face.  Icy rain had soaked the silken
sharnma she wore and it clung transparently to her body, and her fat
little breasts showed through as though they were naked, bouncing to
each exaggerated movement of the car.

Suddenly the mist of rain ahead of them was filled with hurrying
figures, all of them clad in the long sodden sharnmas of the Harari;

carrying their weapons, they were running and staggering forward
through the rain towards the mouth of the gorge.

Gregorius shouted encouragement to them as they sped past, and then
translated quickly.

"I have told them we will hold the enemy at the first waterfall they
are to spread the word."  And he turned back to shout again when
suddenly with a startled oath Jake braked and swung the car violently
to avoid a pile of human bodies strewn in their path.

"This is where the Italian machine-gunners caught them," Sara yelled
across the gap, and as if in confirmation there came the tearing
ripping sound of the machine guns off in the rain mist.

Jake threaded the car past the piles of bodies and then looked around
to make sure Vicky was following.

"Now what the hell!"  He realized they were alone.  "That woman.

That crazy woman," and he braked, slammed Priscilla into reverse and
roared back into the fog until the dark shape of Miss Wobbly loomed up
again.

"No," said Gareth.  "I can't bear it."  Vicky and Sara were out of the
parked car, hurrying amongst the piles of bodies, stooping over a
wounded warrior and between them dragging him upright and thrusting him
through the open rear doors of the cab.  Others, less gravely
wounded,

were limping and crawling towards the machine, and dragging themselves
aboard.

"Come on, Vicky, "Jake yelled.

"We can't leave them here, she yelled back.

"We've got to get to the waterfall," he tried to explain.

"We've got to stop the retreat."  But he might not have spoken, for the
two women turned back to their task.

"Vicky!"  Jake shouted again.

"If you help it won't take so long, "she called obstinately, and

Jake shrugged helplessly before climbing down out of the hatch.

Both cars were crammed with dreadfully wounded and dying Harari,

and the hulls were thick with those who still had strength to hold
on,

before Vicky was satisfied.

"We've lost fifteen minutes.  "Gareth glanced at his pocket watch in
the rain that still poured down with unabated fury.

"And that could be enough to get us all killed, and lose us the
gorge."

"It was worth it," Vicky told him stubbornly, and ran to her car. Again
the heavily burdened machines ground on towards the mountain pass, and
now they had to ignore the pitiful appeals of the wounded they passed.
They lay in huddles of rags soaked with rain and diluted pink blood, or
they crawled painfully and doggedly on towards the mountain, lifting
brown, agonized faces and pleading, clawlike hands,

hands as the two machines roared past in the mist.

Once a freak gap in the rain opened visibility to a mile around them,
and a pale shaft of watery sunlight slanted down to strike the cars
like a stage light, glistening on the wet steel hulls.

Immediately the Italian machine guns opened on them from a range of a
mere two hundred yards, and the bullets cut into the clinging mass of
humanity, knocking a dozen of them shrieking from their perch before
the rain closed in again, hiding them in its soft white protective
bosom.

They ran into the main camp below the gorge, and found that it was
plunged into terrible confusion.  It had been heavily shelled and
machine-gunned, and then the rain had turned it all into a deep muddy
soup of broken flattened tents, and scattered equipment.

Dead horses and human corpses were half buried in the mud, here and
there a terrified dog or a lost child scurried through the rain.

Spasmodic fighting was still taking place in the rocky ground around
the camp, and they caught glimpses of Italian uniforms on the slopes
and muzzle-flashes in the gloom.

Every few seconds a shell would howl in through the rain and cloud and
burst with sullen fury somewhere out of sight.

"Head for the gorge," shouted Gareth.  "Don't stop here," and Jake took
the path that skirted the grove of camel thorns the direct path that
passed below and out of sight of the fighting on the slopes,

crossed the Sardi River and plunged into the gaping maw of the gorge.

"My men are holding them," Gregorius shouted proudly.

"They are holding the gorge.  We must go to their aid."

"Our place is at the first waterfall.  "Gareth raised his voice for the
first time.

"They can't hold here not when the Eyetie brings up his guns.  We've
got to get set at the first waterfall to have a chance."  He looked
back to where the other car should have been following them, and he
groaned.

"No!  Oh, please God, no."

"What is it?  "jake head popped out of the driver's hatch with alarm.

"They've done it again."

"Who ?"  But Jake need not have asked.

The following car had swung off the direct track, and was now storming
up through the rain-blurred camel-Thorn trees, heading for the old
tented camp in the grove, and only incidentally running directly into
the area where the heavy fighting was still rattling and crackling in
the rain.

"Catch her," Gareth said.  "Head her off."  Jake swung off the track
and went zigzagging up through the grove with the rear wheels spinning
and spraying red mud and slush.  But Miss Wobbly had a clear start and
a straight run up the secondary track directly into the enemy advance;
she disappeared amongst the trees and curtains of rain.

Jake brought the car bellowing out into the camp to find Miss

Wobbly parked in the open clearing.  The tents had been flattened and
the whole area trodden and looted, cases of rations and clothing burst
open and soaked with rain; the muddy red canvas of the tents hung
flapping in the trees or lay half buried.

From the turret, Sara was firing the Vickers into the trees of the
grove, and answering fire whined and crackled around the car.  Jake
glimpsed running Italian figures, and turned the car so that his own
gun would bear.

"Get into them, Greg," he yelled, and the boy crouched down behind the
gun and fired a long thunderous burst that tore shreds of bark off the
trees and dropped at least one of the running Italians.  Jake lifted
himself out of the driver's hatch, and then froze and stared in
disbelief.

Victoria Camberwell was out of the armoured car, plodding around in the
soup of red mud, oblivious to the gunfire that whickered and crackled
about her.

"Vicky!"  he cried in despair, and she stooped and snatched something
out of the mud with a cry of triumph.  Now at last she turned and
scampered back to Miss Wobbly, crossing a few feet in front of

Jake.

"What the hell-" he protested.

"My typewriter and my toilet bag," she explained reasonably,

holding her muddy trophies aloft.  "One has got my make-up in it, and

I

can't do my job without the other," and then she smiled like a wet
bedraggled puppy.

"We can go now, "she said.

The track up the gorge was crowded with men and "animals, toiling
wearily upwards in the icy rain.

The pack animals slipped and slithered in the loose footing.

Gareth's relief was intense when he saw the bulky shapes of the Vickers
strapped to the humpy backs of a dozen camels, and the cases of
ammunition riding high in the panniers.  His men had done their work
and saved the guns.

"Go with them, Greg," he ordered.  "See them safely up to the first
waterfall," and the boy jumped down to take command, while the two cars
ploughed on slowly through the sea of humanity.

"There's no fight left in them," said Jake, looking down into the
dispirited brown faces, running with rainwater and shivering in the
cold.

"They'll fight," answered Gareth, and he nudged the Ras.

"What do you say, Grandpa?"  The Ras grinned a weary toothless grin,
but his wet clothing clung to the gaunt old frame like the rags of a
scarecrow, as Jake brought the car round the slippery, glassy hairpin
bend below the first waterfall.

"Pull in here," Gareth told him, and then scrambled down beside the
hull, drawing the Ras down with him.

"Thanks, old son."  He looked up at Jake.  "Take the cars up to

Sardi, and get rid of these-" He indicated the sorry cargo of
wounded.

"Try and find a suitable building for a hospital.  Leave that to Vicky
it'll keep her out of mischief.

Either that or we'll have to tie her up--2 he grinned, and then was
serious.  "Try and contact Lij Mikhael.  Tell him the position here.
Tell him the Gallas have deserted and I'll be hard pressed to hold the
gorge another week.  Tell him we need ammunition, guns,

medicine, blankets, food anything he can spare.  Ask him to send a
train down to Sardi with supplies, and to take out the wounded."  He
paused, and thought for a moment.  "That's it, I think.

Do that and then come back, with all the food you can carry.  I

think we left most of our supplies down there" he glanced down into the
misty depths of the gorge "and these fellows won't fight on an empty
stomach."  Jake reversed the car and pulled back on to the track.

"Oh, and Jake, try and find a few cheroots.  I lost my entire stock
down there.  Can't fight without a whiff or two."  He grinned and
waved.  "Keep it warm, old son," he called, and turned away to begin
stopping the trudging column of refugees, pushing them off the track
towards the prepared trenches that had been dug into the rocky sides of
the gorge, overlooking the double sweep of the track below them.

"Come along, chaps," Gareth shouted cheerfully.  "Who's for a touch of
old glory!"  ROM GENERAL BADOGLIO, COMMANDER IN CHIEF OF THE

AFRICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE BEFORE AMBA ARA DAM TO COLONEL COUNT ALDO

BELLI, OFFICER COMMANDING THE DANAKIL COLUMN AT THE WELLS OF CHALDI.

THE MOMENT FOR WHICH WE HAVE PLANNED IS

NOW AT HAND STOP I CONFRONT THE MAIN BODY OF THE ENEMY, AND HAVE

HAD THEM UNDER CONTINUOUS BOMBARDMENT FOR FIVE DAYS.  AT DAWN

TOMORROW

I SHALL ATTACK IN FORCE AND DRIVE THEM FROM THE HIGH GROUND BACK

ALONG

THE DE SSI ROAD.  DO YOU NOW ADVANCE WITH ALL DESPATCH TO TAKE UP A

POSITION ASTRIDE THE DESSIE ROAD AND STEM THE TIDE OF THE ENEMY's

RETREAT, SO THAT WE MAY TAKE THEM ON BOTH TINES OF THE PITCHFORK.
"forty thousand men lay upon Ambo Aradam, cowering in their trenches
and caves.  They were the heart and spine of the Ethiopian armies, and
the man who led them, Ras Muguletu, was the ablest and most experienced
of all the warlords.  But he was powerless and uncertain in the face of
such strength and fury as now broke around him.  He had not imagined it
could be so, and he lay with his men, quiescent and stoic.  There was
no enemy to confront, nothing to strike out at, for the huge Caproni
bombers droned high overhead and the great guns that fired the shells
were miles below in the valley.

All they could do was pull their dusty shammas over their heads and
endure the bone-jarring, bowel-shaking detonations and breathe the
filthy fume-laden air.

Day after day the storm of explosive roared around them until they were
dazed and stupefied, deafened and uncaring, enduring, only enduring not
thinking, not feeling, not caring.

On the sixth night the drone of the big three-engined bombers passed
overhead, and Ras Muguletu's men, peering up fearfully, saw the
sinister shapes pass overhead, dark against the silver pricking of the
stars.

They waited for the bombs to tumble down upon them once more, but the
bombers circled above the flat-topped mountain for many minutes and
there were no bombs.  Then the bombers turned away and the drone of the
engines died into the lightening dawn sky.

Only then did the soft insidious dew that they had sown come sifting
down out of the still night sky.  Gently as the fall of snowflakes, it
settled upon the upturned brown faces, into the fearfully staring eyes,
on to the bare hands that held the ancient firearms at the ready.

It burned into the exposed skin, blistering and eating into the living
flesh like some terrible canker; it burned the eyes in their sockets,
turning them into cherry-red, glistening orbs from which the yellow
mucus poured thickly.  The pain it inflicted combined both the seating
of concentrated acid and the fierce heat of live coals.

In the dawn, while thousands of Ras Muguletu's men whimpered and cried
out in their consuming agony, and their comrades, bemused and
bewildered, tried unavailingly to render aid, in that dreadful
moment,

the first wave of Italian infantry came up over the lip of the
mountain, and they were into the Ethiopian trenches before the
defenders realized what had happened.  The Italian bayonets blurred
redly in the first rays of the morning sun.

The cloud lay upon the highlands, blotting out the peaks, and the rain
fell in a constant deluge.  It had rained without ceasing for the two
days and three nights since the disaster of Aruba Aradarn.  The rain
had saved them, it had saved the thirty thousand survivors of the
battle from being overtaken by the same fate as had befallen the ten
thousand casualties they had left on the mountain.

High above the cloud, the Italian bombers circled hungrily; Lij

Mikhael could hear them clearly, although the thick blanket of cloud
muted the sound of the powerful triple engines.  They waited for a
break in the cloud, to come swooping down upon the retreat.  What a
target they would enjoy if that happened!  The Dessie road was choked
for a dozen miles with the slow unwieldy column of the retreat, the
ragged files of trudging figures, bowed in the rain, their heads
covered with their shammas, their bare feet sliding and slipping in the
mud.  Hungry, cold and dispirited, they toiled onwards, carrying
weapons that grew heavier with every painful step still they kept on.

The rain had hampered the Italian pursuit.  Their big troop-carriers
were bogged down helplessly in the treacherous mud, and each engorged
mountain stream, each ravine raged with the muddy brown rain waters.
They had to be bridged by the Italian engineers before the transports
could be manhandled across, and the pursuit continued.

The Italian General Badoglio had been denied a crushing victory and
thirty thousand Ethiopian troops had escaped him at Aradam.

It was Lij Mikhael's special charge, placed upon him -personally by the
King of Kings, Baile Selassie, to bring out those thirty thousand men.
To extricate them from Badogho's talons, and regroup them with the
southern army under the Emperor's personal command upon the shores of
Lake Tona.  Another thirty-six hours and the task would be
accomplished.

He sat on the rear seat of the mud-spattered Ford sedan, huddled into
the thick coarse folds of his greatcoat, and although it was worn and
lulling in the sedan interior, and although he was exhausted to the
point at which his hands and feet felt completely numb and his eyes as
though they were filled with sand, yet no thought of sleep entered his
mind.  There was too much to plan, too many eventualities to meet, too
many details to ponder and he was afraid.  A terrible black fear
pervaded his whole being.

The ease with which the Italian victory had been won at Araoam filled
him with fear for the future.  It seemed as though nothing could stand
against the force of Italian arms against the big guns, and the bombs
and the nitrogen Mustard.  He feared that another terrible defeat
awaited them on the shores of Lake Tona.

He feared also for the safety of the thirty thousand in his charge.  He
knew that the Danakil column of the Italian expeditionary force had
fought its way into the Sardi Gorge and must by now have almost reached
the town of Sardi itself.  He knew that Ras Golam's small force had
been heavily defeated on the plains and had suffered doleful losses in
the subsequent defence of the gorge.  He feared that they might be
swept aside at any moment now and that the Italian column would come
roaring like a lion across his rear cutting off his retreat to Dessie.
He must have time, a little more time, a mere thirty-six hours more.

Then again, he feared the Gallas.  At the beginning of the Italian
offensive they had taken no part in the fighting but had merely
disappeared into the mountains, betraying completely the trust that
the

Harari leaders had placed in them.  Now, however, that the Italians had
won their first resounding victories, the Gallas had become active,

gathering like vultures for the scraps that the lions left.  His own
retreat from Aradam had been harassed by his erstwhile allies.  They
hung on his flanks, hiding in the scrub Laid scree slopes along the

Dessie road, awaiting each opportunity to fall upon a weak unprotected
spot in the unwieldy slow-moving column.  It was classical shifta
tactics, the age old art of ambush, of hit and run, a few throats slit
and a dozen rifles stolen but it slowed the retreat slowed it
drastically while close behind them followed the Italian horde, and
across their rear lay the mouth of the Sardi Gorge.

Lij Mikhael roused himself and leaned forward in the seat to peer ahead
through the windscreen.  The wipers flogged sullenly from side to side,
keeping two fans of clean glass in the mud-splattered screen, and

Lij Mikhael made out the railway crossing ahead of them where it
bisected the muddy rutted road.

He grunted with so tis faction and the driver pushed the Ford through
the slowly moving mass of miserable humanity which clogged the road. It
opened only reluctantly as the sedan butted its way through with the
horn blaring angrily, and closed again behind it as it passed.

They reached the railway level crossing and Lij Mikhael ordered the
driver to pull off the road beside a group of his officers.  He slipped
out bareheaded and immediately the rain de wed on his bushy dark hair.
The group of officers surrounded him, each eager to tell his own story,
to recite the list of his own requirements, his own misgivings each
with news of fresh disaster, new threats to their very existence.

They had no comfort for him, and Lij Mikhael listened with a great
weight growing in his chest.

At last he gestured for silence.  "Is the telephone line to Sardi still
open?  "he asked.

"The Gallas have not yet cut it.  It does not follow the railway line
but crosses the spur of Ambo Sacal.  They must have overlooked it."

"Have me connected with the Sardi station I must speak to somebody
there.  I must know exactly what is happening in the gorge."

He left the group of officers beside the railway tracks and walked a
short way along the Sardi spur.

Down there, a few short miles away, the close members of his family his
father, his brothers, his daughter were risking their lives to buy him
the time he needed.  He wondered what price they had already paid, and
suddenly, a mental picture of his daughter sprang into his mind Sara,
young and lithe and laughing.  Firmly he thrust the thought aside and
he turned to look back at the endless file of bedraggled figures that
shuffled along the Dessie road.  They were in no condition to defend
themselves, they were helpless as cattle "Until they could be
regrouped, fed and re-armed in spirit.

No, if the Italians came now it would be the end.

"Excellency, the line to Sardi is open.  Will you speak?  Lij

Mikhael turned back and went to where a field telephone had been hooked
into the Sardi-Dessie telephone line.  The copper wires dangled down
from the telegraph poles overhead, and Lij Mikhael took the handset
that the officer handed him and spoke quietly into the mouthpiece.

Beside the station master's office in the railway yards of Sardi town
stood the long cavernous warehouse used for the storage of grain and
other goods.  The roof and walls were clad with corrugated galvanized
iron which had been daubed a dull rusty red with oxide paint.

The floor was of raw concrete, and tire cold mountain wind whistled in
through the joints in the corrugated sheets.

At a hundred places, the roof leaked where the galvanizing had rusted
away, and the rain dripped steadily forming icy puddles on the bare
concrete floor.

There were almost six hundred wounded and dying men crowded into the
shed.  There was no bedding or blankets, and empty grain bags served
the purpose.  They lay in long lines on the hard concrete, and the cold
came up through the thin jute bags, and the rain dripped down upon them
from the high roof.

There was no sanitation, no bed pans, no running water, and most of the
men were too weak to hobble out into the slush of the goods yard.  The
stench was a solid tangible thing that permeated the clothing and clung
in a person's hair long after he had left the shed.

There was no antiseptic, no medicine not even a bottle of Lysol or a
packet of Aspro.  The tiny store of medicines at the missionary
hospital had long ago been exhausted.  The German doctor worked on into
each night with no anaesthetic and nothing to combat the secondary
infection.

Already the stink of putrefying wounds was almost as strong as the
other stench.

The most hideous injuries were the burns inflicted by the nitrogen
mustard.  All that could be done was to smear the scalded and blistered
flesh with locomotive grease.  They had found two drums of this in the
loco shed.

Vicky Camberwell had slept for three hours two days ago.

Since then, she had worked without ceasing amongst the long pitiful
lines of bodies.  Her face was deadly pale in the gloom of the shed,
and her eyes had receded into dark bruised craters.  Her feet were
swollen from standing so long, and her shoulders and her back ached
with a dull unremitting agony.  Her linen dress was stained with specks
of dried blood, and other less savoury secretions and she worked on, in
despair that there was so little they could do for the hundreds of
casualties.

She could help them to drink the water they cried out for, clean those
that lay in their own filth, hold a black pleading hand as the man
died, and then pull the coarse jute sacking up over his face and signal
one of the over, worked male orderlies to carry him away and bring in
another from where they were already piling up on the open stoep of the
shed.

One of the orderlies stooped over her now, shaking her shoulder
urgently, and it was some seconds before she could understand what he
was saying.  Then she pushed herself stiffly up off her knees, and
stood for a moment holding the small of her back with both hands while
the pain there eased, and the dark giddiness in her head abated.  Then
she followed the orderly out across the muddy fouled yard to the
station office.

She lifted the telephone receiver to her ear and her voice was husky
and slurred as she said her name.

"Miss Camberwell, this is Lij Mikhael here."  His voice was scratchy
and remote, and she could hardly catch the words, for the rain still
rattled on the iron roof above her head.  "I am at the Dessie
crossroads."

"The train," she said, her voice firming.  Lij Mikhael,

where is the train you promised?  We must have medicine antiseptic,

anaesthetic don't you understand?  There are six hundred wounded men
here.  Their wounds are rotting, they are dying like animals."  She
recognized the rising hysteria in her voice, and she cut herself off.

"Miss Camberwell.  The train I am sorry.  I sent it to you.

With supplies.  Medicines.  Another doctor.  It left Dessie yesterday
morning, and passed the crossroads here yesterday evening on its way
down the gorge to Sardi-"

"Where is it, then?"  demanded Vicky.  "We must have it.

You don't know what it's like here."

"I'm sorry, Miss Camberwell.

The train will not reach you.  It was derailed in the mountains fifteen
miles north of Sardi.  Ras Kullah's men the Gallas were in ambush.

They had torn up the tracks, they have Fired everybody aboard and
burned the coaches."  There was a long silence between them, only the
static hissed and buzzed across the wires.

"Miss Camberwell.  Are you there?"

"Yes."

"Do you understand what

I am saying?"

"Yes, I understand."

"There will be no train."  "No."  Ras

Kullah has cut the road between here and Sardi."

"Yes."

"Nobody can reach you and there is no escape from Sardi up the railway
line.

Ras Kullah has five thousand men to hold it.  His position in the
mountains is impregnable.  He can hold the road against an army."

"We are cut off," said Vicky thickly.  "The Italians in front of us.
The

Gallas behind us."  Again the silence between them, then Lij Mikhael
asked, "Where are the Italians now, Miss Camberwell?"

"They are almost at the head of the gorge, where the last waterfall
crosses the road-"

She paused and listened intently, removing the receiver from her ear.

Then she lifted it again.  "You can hear the Italian guns.  They are
firing all the time now.  So very close."

"Miss Camberwell, can you get a message to Major Swales?"

"Yes."

"Tell him I need another eighteen hours.  If he can hold the Italians
until noon tomorrow, then they cannot reach the crossroads before it is
dark tomorrow night.  It will give me another day and two nights.  If
he can hold until noon, he will have discharged with honour all his
obligations to me, and you will all have earned the undying gratitude
of the Emperor and all the peoples of Ethiopia.  You, Mr.  Barton and
Major Swales."

"Yes," said

Vicky.  Each word was an effort.

"Tell him that at noon tomorrow I shall have made the best arrangements
I can for your evacuation from Sardi.  Tell him to hold hard until
noon, and then I will spare no effort to get all of you out of
there."

"I will tell him."

"Tell him that at noon tomorrow he is to order all the remaining
Ethiopian troops to disperse into the mountains, and I will speak to
you again on this telephone to tell you what arrangements I have been
able to make for your safety."  Lij

Mikhael, what about the wounded, the ones who cannot disperse into the
hills?"  The silence again, and then the Prince's voice, quiet but
heavy with grief.

"It would be best if they fell into the hands of the Italians rather
than the Gallas."

"Yes,"she agreed quietly.

"There is one other thing, Miss Camberwell."  The Prince hesitated,

and then went on firmly, "Under no circumstances are you to surrender
yourselves to the Italians.  Even in the most extreme circumstances.

Anything-" he emphasized the word, "anything is preferable to that."
?

"I have learned from our agents that sentence of death has been passed
on you, Mr.  Barton and Major Swales.  You have been declared agents
provocateurs and terrorists.  You are to be handed over to Ras

Kullah for execution of sentence.  Anything would be better than
that."

"I understand," said Vicky softly, and she shuddered as she thought
of

Ras Kullah's thick pink lips, and the soft bloated hands.

"If everything else fails, I will send an-" his voice was cut off
abruptly, and now there was no hiss of static across the wires, only
the dead silence of lost contact.

For another minute Vicky tried to re-establish contact, but the handset
was mute and the silence complete.  She replaced it on its cradle, and
closed her eyes tightly for a moment to steady herself.  She had never
felt so lonely and tired and afraid in her entire life.

Vicky paused as she crossed the yard to the warehouse, and she looked
up at the sky.  She had not realized how late it was.  There were only
a few hours of daylight left but the cloud seemed to be breaking up.
The sombre grey roof was higher, just on the peaks, and there were
light patches where the sun tried to penetrate the cloud.

She prayed quietly that it would not happen.  Twice during these last
desperate days, the cloud had lifted briefly, and each time the

Italian bombers had come roaring at low level up the gorge.  On both
occasions, the terrible damage they had inflicted had forced Gareth to
abandon his trenches and pull back to the next prepared position, and a
flood of wounded and dying had engulfed them here at the hospital.

"Let it rain," she prayed.  "Please God, let it rain and rain."

She bowed her head and hurried on into the shed, into the stench and
the low hubbub of groans and wails.  She saw that Sara was still
assisting at the plain wooden table, inadequately screened by a
tattered curtain of canvas, and lit by a pair of Petromax lamps.

The German doctor was removing a shattered limb, cutting below the knee
while the young Harari warrior thrashed weakly under the weight of the
four orderlies who held him down.

Vicky waited until they carried the patient away and she called to

Sara.  The two of them went out and stood breathing the sweet mountain
air with relief as they leant close together under the overhanging roof
of the veranda while Vicky repeated the conversation she had held
with

Lij Mikhael.

"Then we were cut off.  The line just went dead."

"Yes," Sara nodded.  "They have cut the wires.  It is only a surprise
that Ras

Kullah did not do so before.  The wires cross over the top of Ambo

Sacal.  Perhaps it has taken this long for them to reach it."

"Will you go down the gorge, Sara, and give the message to Major
Swales?  I would go down in Miss Wobbly, but there is almost no fuel in
the tank, and I

have promised Jake not to waste it.  We will need every drop later--2

"It will be quicker on horseback anyway," Sara smiled, and I will be
able to see Gregorius."

"No, it won't take long," Vicky agreed.

"They are very close."  Both of them paused to listen to the Italian
guns.  The thumping detonations of the high explosive reverberated
against the mountains, close enough to make the ground tremble under
their feet.

"Don't you want me to give a message to Mr.  Bartonr Sara demanded
archly.  "Shall I tell him that your body crave, "No," Vicky cut her
short, her alarm obvious.  "For goodness sake don't go giving him one
of your salacious inventions."

"What does "salacious" mean, Miss

Camberwell?"  Sara's interest was aroused immediately.

"It means lecherous, lustful."

"Salacious," Sara repeated,

memorizing it.  "It's a fine word," and with gusto she tried it out.

"My body craves you with a great salacious yearning."

"Sara, if you tell Jake that I said that, I will murder you with my
bare hands,"

Vicky warned her, laughing for the first time in many days, and her
laughter was cut off in mid flight by the single ringing scream of
terror, and the wild animal roar that followed it.

Suddenly the goods yard was filled with racing figures; they poured out
of the thick stand of cedar trees that flanked the railway line, and
they crossed the tracks in a few leaping bounds.  There were hundreds
of them and they poured into the warehouse and fell like a pack of
wolves on the rows of helpless wounded.

"The Gallas," whispered Sara huskily, and for a moment they stood
paralysed with horror, staring into the gloomy cavern of the shed.

Vicky saw the old German doctor run to meet the Galla wave, with his
arms spread in a gesture of appeal, trying to prevent the slaughter. He
took the thrust of a broadsword full in the centre of his chest, and a
foot of the blade appeared magically from between his
shoulder-blades.

She saw a Galla, armed with a magazine-loaded rifle, run down a line of
wounded, pausing to fire a single shot at pointblank range into each
head.

She saw another with a long dagger in his hand, not bothering even to
slit the throat of the Harari wounded, before he jerked aside the
covering of coarse jute bags and his dagger swept in a single cutting
stroke across the exposed lower belly.

She saw the shed filled with frenzied figures, their sword-arms rising
and falling, their gunfire crashing into the supine bodies, and the
screams of their victims ringing against the high roof, blending with
the high excited laughter and the wild cries of the Galla.

Sara dragged Vicky away, pulling her back behind the sheltering wall of
the shed.  It broke the spell of horror which had mesmerized

Vicky and she ran beside the girl on flying feet.

The car," she panted.  "If we can reach the car."  Miss Wobbly was
parked beyond the station buildings under the lean-to of the loco shed
where it was protected from the rain.  Running side by side, Vicky
and

Sara turned the corner of the shed and ran almost into the arms of a
dozen Gallas coming at a run in the opposite direction.

Vicky had a glimpse of their dark faces, shining with rain and sweat,
of the open mouths and flashing wolf-like teeth, the mad staring eyes,
and she smelt them, the hot excited animal smell of their sweat.

Then she was twisting away, like a hare jinking out of the track of a
hound.  A hand clutched at her shoulder, and she felt her blouse tear,
then she was free and running, but she could hear the pounding of their
feet close behind her, and the crazy loolooing of excitement as they
chased.

Sara ran with her, drawing slightly ahead as they reached the corner of
the station building.  There was the flash and the crack of a
rifle-shot out on their left, and the bullet slammed into the wall
beside them.  From the corner of her eye Vicky saw other running
Gallas,

racing in from the main road of the village, their long shammas
flapping about them as they ran to head them off.

Sara was drawing away from her.  The girl ran with the grace and speed
of a gazelle, and Vicky could not keep pace with her.  She rounded the
corner of the station building ten paces ahead of Vicky, and stopped
abruptly.

Under the lean-to shelter, the angular shape of Miss Wobbly was
wreathed in furious petals of crimson flame, and the black oily smoke
poured from her hatches.  The Gallas had reached her first.  She had
clearly been one of their first targets, and dozens of them pranced
around her as she burned and then scattered as the Vickers ammunition
in the bins began exploding.

Sara had halted for only a second, but it was long enough for

Vicky to reach her.

"The cedar forest," gasped Sara, a hand on Vicky's arm as they changed
direction.

The forest was two hundred yards away across the tracks, but it was
dense and dark, covering the broken ground along the river.  They raced
out into the open, and immediately twenty other Gallas took up the
chase, their voices raised in the pack clamour.

The open yard seemed to stretch to eternity as Vicky ran on ahead of
the Gallas.  The ground was slushy, so that she sank to the ankles with
each step, and the clinging red mud sucked one of the shoes off her
foot.  So she ran on lopsidedly her feet sliding and her knees turning
weak under her.

Sara raced on lightly ahead, leaping the steel railway track, and her
feet flying lightly over the muddy ground.

The edge of the forest was fifty feet away.

Vicky felt a foot catch as she tried to jump the tracks and she went
down sprawling in the mud.  She dragged herself to her knees.  On the
edge of the forest Sara looked back, hesitating, her eyes huge and
glistening white in her smooth dark face.

"Run," screamed Vicky.  "Run.  Tell Jake," and the girl was gone into
the dark forest, with only a flicker of her passing like a forest
doe.

The butt of a rifle struck Vicky in the side, below the ribs, and she
went down with an explosive grunt of pain into the cold red mud.

Then there were hands tearing at her clothing, and she tried to
fight,

but she was blinded by the clinging wet tresses of her hair, and
crippled with the pain of the blow.  They hoisted her to her feet, and
suddenly a new authoritative voice cracked like a whiplash, and the
hands released her.

She lifted her head, hunched up over her bruised belly and side.

Through eyes blurred with tears and mud, she recognized the scarred
face of the Galla Captain.  He still wore the blue sham ma sodden now
with rain, and the scar twisted his grin, making it seem even more
cruel and vicious.

The front edge of the trench had been reinforced with sandbags and
screened with brush, and through the square observation aperture the
view down the gorge was uninterrupted.

Gareth propped one shoulder against the sandbags and peered down into
the gathering gloom.  Jake Barton squatted on the firing step beside
him and studied the Englishman's face.  Gareth Swales's usually
immaculate turnout was now red with dried mud, and stained with
sweat,

rainwater and filth.

A thick golden stubble of beard covered his jaw like the pelt of an
otter, and his mustache was ragged and untrimmed.  There had been no
opportunity to change clothing or bathe in the last week.  There were
new lines etched deeply into the corners of his mouth, his forehead,
and around his eyes, lines of pain and worry, but when he glanced up
and caught Jake's scrutiny, he grinned and lifted an eyebrow, and the
old devilish gleam was in his eyes.  He was about to speak when from
below them another shell came howling up through the deep shades of the
gorge, and both of them ducked instinctively as it burst in close, but
neither of them remarked.  There had been hundreds of bursts that close
in the last days.

"It's breaking for certain," Gareth observed instead, and they both
looked up at the strip of sky that showed between the mountains.

"Yes," Jake agreed.  "But it's too late.  It will be dark in twenty
minutes."  It would be too late for the bombers, even if the cloud
lifted completely.  From bitter experience they knew how long it took
for the aircraft to reach them from the airfield at Chaldi.

"It will clear again tomorrow Gareth answered.

"Tomorrow is another day," Jake said, but his mind dwelt on the big
black machines.  The Italian artillery fired smoke markers on to their
trenches just as soon as they heard the drone of approaching engines in
the open cloudless sky.  The Capronis came in very low,

their wing-tips seeming to scrape the rocky walls on each side of the
gorge.  The beat of their engines rose to an unbearable, ear-shattering
roar, and they were so close that they could make out the features of
the helmeted heads of the airmen in the round glass cockpits.

Then, as they flashed overhead, the black objects detached from under
their fuselage.  The 100, kilo bombs dropped straight, their flight
controlled by the fins, and when they struck, the explosion shocked the
mind and numbed the body.  In comparison the burst of an artillery
shell was a squib.

The canisters of nitrogen mustard were not aerodynamically stable,

and they tumbled end over end and burst against the rocky slopes in a
splash of yellow, jellylike liquid that sprayed for hundreds of feet in
all directions.

Each time the bombers had come one after the other, endlessly hour
after hour, they left the defence so broken that the wave of infantry
that followed them could not be repelled.  Each time they had been
driven out of their trenches, to toil back, upwards to the next line of
defence.

This was the last line, two miles behind them stood the granite portals
that headed the gorge, and beyond them, the town of Sardi and the open
way to the Dessie road.

"Why don't you try and get a little sleep, "Jake suggested, and
involuntarily glanced down at Gareth's arm.  It was swathed in strips
of torn shirt, and suspended in a makeshift sling from around his
neck.

The discharge of lymph and pus and the coating of engine grease had
soaked through the crude bandage.  It was an ugly sight covered, but

Jake remembered what it looked like without the bandage.  The nitrogen
mustard had flayed it from shoulder to wrist, as though it had been
plunged into a pot of boiling water and Jake wondered how much good the
coating of greene was doing it.  There was no other treatment,
however,

and at least it kept the air from the terrible injury.

"I'll wait until dark," Gareth murmured, and with his good hand lifted
the binoculars to his eyes.  "I've got a funny feeling.  It's too quiet
down there."  They were silent again, the silence of extreme
exhaustion.

"It's too quiet, said Gareth again, and winced as he moved the arm.
"They haven't got time to sit around like this.  They've got to keep
pushing pushing."  And then, irrelevantly, "God, I'd give one testicle
for a cheroot.  A Romeo y Juliette-" He broke off abruptly,

and then both of them straightened up.

"Do you hear what I think I hear?"  asked Gareth.

"I think I do."

"it had to come, of course, said Gareth.  "I'm only surprised it took
this long.  But it's a long, hard ride from

Asmara to here.  So that's what they were waiting for."  The sound was
unmistakable in the brooding silence of the gorge, tunnelled up to them
by the rock walls.  It was faint still, but there was no doubting the
clanking clatter, and the shrill squeak of turning steel tracks.  Each
second it grew nearer, and now they could hear the soft growl of the
engines.

"That has got to be the most unholy sound in the world," said

Jake.

"Tanks," said Gareth.  "Bloody tanks."

"They won't get here before dark," Jake guessed.  And they won't risk a
night attack."

No Gareth agreed.  "They'll come at dawn."

"Tanks and Capronis instead of ham and eggs?"  Gareth shrugged wearily.
"That's about the size of it, old son."  Colonel Count Aldo Belli was
not at all certain of the wisdom of his actions, and he thought that
Gino was justified in looking up at him with those reproachful
spaniel's eyes.  They should have been still comfortably ensconced
behind the formidable de fences of Chaldi Wells.

However, a number of powerful influences had combined to drive him
forward once again.

Not the least powerful of these were the daily radio messages from

General Badogho's headquarters, urging him to intersect the Dessie
road, "before the fish slips through our net'.  These messages were
daily more harsh and threatening in character, and were immediately
passed on with the Count's own embellishments to Major Luigi Castelani
who had command of the column struggling up the gorge.

Now at last Castelani had radioed back to the Count the welcome news
that he stood at the very head of the gorge, and the next push would
carry him into the town of Sardi itself.  The Count had decided,

after long and deep meditation, that to ride into the enemy stronghold
at the moment of its capture would so enhance his reputation as to be
worth the small danger involved.  Major Castelani had assured him that
the enemy was broken and whipped, had suffered enormous casualties and
was no longer a coherent fighting force.  Those odds were acceptable to
the Count.

The final circumstance that persuaded him to leave the camp,

abandon the new military philosophy, and move cautiously up the Sardi
Gorge was the arrival of the armoured column from Asmara.  These
machines were to replace those that the savage enemy had so
perfidiously trapped and burned.  Despite all the Count's pleading and
blustering, it had taken a week for them to be diverted from Massawa,

brought up to Asmara by train, and then for them to complete the long
slow crossing of the Danakil.

Now, however, they had arrived and the Count had immediately
requisitioned one of the six tanks as his personal command vehicle.

Once he was within the thick armoured hull, he had experienced a new
flood of confidence and courage.

"Onwards to Sardi, to write in blood upon the glorious pages of
history!"  were the words that occurred to him, and Gino's face had
creased up into that spaniel's expression.

Now in the lowering shades of evening, grinding up the rocky pathway
while walls of sheer rock rose on either hand, seeming to meet the
sullen purple strip of sky high above, the Count was having serious
doubts about the whole wild venture.

He peered out from the turret of his command tank, his eyes huge and
dark and melting with apprehension, a black polished steel helmet
pulled down firmly over his ears, and one hand gripping the ivory butt
of the Beretta so fiercely that his knuckles shone white as bone
china.

At his feet, Gino crouched miserably, keeping well down within the
steel hull.

At that moment a machine gun opened fire ahead of them, and the sound
echoed and re-echoed against the sheer walls of the gorge.

"Stop!  Stop this instant!  shouted the Count at his driver.

The gunfire sounded very close ahead.  "We will make this battalion
headquarters.  Right here," announced the Count, and Gino perked up a
little and nodded his total agreement.

"Send for Major Castelani and Major Vita.  They are to report to me
here immediately."  Jake awoke to the pressure of somebody's hand on
his shoulder, and the light of a storm lantern in his eyes.

The effort of sitting up required all his determination and he let the
damp blanket fall and screwed up his eyes against the light.  The cold
had stiffened every muscle in his body, and his head felt light and
woolly with fatigue.  He could not believe it was morning already.

"Who is it?"

"It's me, Jake," and then he saw Gregorius's dark intense face beyond
the lamp.

"Take that bloody thing out of my eyes."  Beside him, Gareth Swales sat
up suddenly.  Both of them had been sleeping fully dressed upon the
same ragged strip of canvas in the muddy bottom of the dugout.

"What's going on?"  mumbled Gareth, also stupid with fatigue.

Gregorius swung the lantern aside and the light fell on the slim figure
beside him.  Sara was shivering with cold and her light clothing was
&-soddden and muddy.  Thorn and branches had scored bloody lines across
her legs and arms, and ripped the fabric of her breeches.

She dropped on her knees beside Jake, and he saw that her eyes were
haunted with terror and horror, her lips trembled uncontrollably,

and the slim hand she laid on Jake's arm was cold as a dead man's, but
it fluttered urgently.

"Miss Camberwell.  They have taken her!"  she blurted wildly, and her
voice choked up.

"You should stay on here," Jake muttered, as they hurried up the slope
to where Priscilla the Pig was parked half a mile back from the line of
trenches.

"There will be a dawn attack, they'll need you."

"I'm coming on the ride, Jake," Gareth answered quietly, but firmly.
"You can't expect me to sit here while Vicky-" he broke off.  "Got to
keep a fatherly eye on you, old son," he went on in the old bantering
tone.

"The Ras and his lads will have to take their own chances for a
while."

As he spoke, they reached the hulking shape of the armoured car, parked
in the broken ground below the head of the gorge.  Jake began to drag
the canvas cover off the vehicle, and Gareth drew Gregorius aside.

"One way or another, we should be back before dawn.  If we aren't,

you know what to do.  God knows, you've had enough practice these last
few days."  Gregorius nodded silently.

"Hold as long as you can.  Then back to the head of the gorge for the
last act.  Right?  It's only until noon tomorrow.

We can hold them that long, tanks or no bloody tanks, can't we?"

"Yes, Gareth, we can hold them."

"Just one other thing, Greg.  I love your grandfather like a brother
but keep that old bastard under control, will you.

Even if you have to tie him down.  "Gareth slapped the boy's shoulder,
changed the captured Italian rifle into his good hand and hurried back
to the car, just as Jake boosted Sara up the side of the hull and then
ran to the crank handle.

Priscilla the Pig ground up the last few hundred yards of steep ground
to the head of the gorge, and they passed gangs of Harari working by
torchlight.  They had been at it in shifts since the previous evening
when Jake and Gareth had heard the Italian tanks coming up the gorge.

Although all his concern was with Vicky, yet Gareth noted almost
mechanically that the work gang had performed their task well.  The
anti-tank walls were higher than a man's head and built from the
heaviest, most massive boulders that could be carried down from the
cliffs.  There was only a gap narrow enough to allow the car to pass in
the centre of the walls.

"Tell them to close the gap now, Sara.  We won't take the car into the
gorge again," Gareth instructed quietly as they went through and she
called out to a Harari officer who stood on top of the highest point of
the wall; he waved an acknowledgement, and turned away to supervise the
work.

Jake took the car through the natural granite gates, and beyond them
lay the saucer-shaped valley and the town of Sardi.

It was burning, and at the sight Jake halted the car and they stood on
the hull and looked across at the ruddy glow of the flames that lit the
underbelly of the clouds, and dimly defined the mountain masses that
enclosed the valley.

"is she still alive?"  Jake voiced all their fears, but it was Sara who
answered.

"If Ras Kullah was there when they caught her, then she is dead."

Then silence again, both men staring Out into the night, with anger and
dread holding them captive.

"But if he was skulking up in the hills, as he usually does,

waiting for the attack to succeed before he shows himself," she spat
expressively over the side of the hull, "then his men would not dare
begin the execution, until he was there to watch and enjoy the work of
his milch cows.  I have heard they can take the skin off a living body
working carefully with their little knives, every inch of skin from
head to toes, and the body still lives for many hours."  And Jake
shuddered with horror.

fire "If you're ready, old boy.  I think we could move on now!"

said Gareth, and with an effort Jake roused himself and dropped back
into the driver's hatch.

There seemed to be a suggestion of the false dawn lightening the narrow
strip of sky high above the mountains when Gregorius Maryam scrambled
back into the front line treches.

There was activity already amongst the shadowy figures that crowded the
narrow dugouts, and one of the Ras's bodyguard carrying a smoky
paraffin lantern greeted him with, "The Ras asks for you.  "Gregorius
followed him down the trench, stepping carefully amongst the hundreds
of figures that slept uncaring on the muddy floor.

The Ras sat huddled in a grey blanket, in one of the larger dugouts off
the main trench.  The open pit had been roofed in with the remnants of
one of the leather tents, and a small fire burned smokily in the
centre.  The Ras was surrounded by a dozen of the officers of his
bodyguard, and he looked up as Gregorius knelt quietly before him.

"The white men have gone?"  the Ras asked concluding with a a hacking
old man's cough that shook his whole frail body.

"They will return in the dawn, before the enemy attack."  Gregorius
defended them quickly, and went on to explain the reasons and the
change of plans.

The Ras nodded, staring into the flickering fire, and when

Gregorius paused, he spoke again in that rasping, querulous tone.

"It is a sign and I would have it no other way.  Too long I have
listened to the council of the Englishman, too long I have quenched the
fire in my belly, too long I have slunk like a dog from the enemy."  He
coughed again, painfully.

"We have run far enough.  The time has come to fight," and his officers
growled angrily in the gloom around him, and swayed closer to listen to
his words.  "Go you to your men, rouse them, fill their bellies with
fire and their hands with steel.  Tell them that the signal will be as
it was a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago.

Tell them to listen for my war drums," a suppressed roar of exultation
came from their throats, "the drums will beat up the dawn, and when
they cease, that will be the moment.  "The Ras had struggled to his
feet,

and he stood naked above them; the blanket 2 fallen away, and his
skinny old chest heaved with the passion of his anger.  "In that
moment, I, Ras Golam, will go down to drive the enemy back across the
desert and into the sea from which they came.

Every man who calls himself a warrior and an Harari will go down with
me-" and his voice was lost in the shrill loolooing of his officers,
and the Ras laughed, with the high ringing laugh close to madness.

One of his officers handed him a mug of the fiery tei and the Ras
poured it down his throat in a single draught, then hurled the mug upon
the fire.

Gregorius leapt to his feet and laid a restraining hand upon the skinny
old arm.

"Grandfather."  The Ras swung to him, the bloodshot rheumy eyes burning
with a fierce new light.

"If you have woman's words to say to me, then swallow them and let them
choke the breath in your lungs, and turn to poison in your belly.  "The
Ras glared at his grandson, and suddenly Gregorius understood.

He understood what the Ras was about to do.  He was a man old and wise
enough to know that his world was passing, that the enemy was too
strong, that God had turned his back upon Ethiopia, that no matter how
brave the heart and how fierce the battle in the end there was defeat
and dishonour and slavery.

The Ras was choosing the other way the only other way.

The flash of understanding passed between the youth and the ancient,
and the Ras's eyes softened and he leaned towards Gregorius.

"But if the fire is in your belly also, if you will charge beside me
when the drums fall silent then kneel for my blessing."  Suddenly

Gregorius felt all care and restraint fall away, and his heart soared
up like an eagle, borne aloft by the ancient atavistic joy of the
warrior.

He fell on one knee before the Ras.

"Give me your blessing, grandfather," he cried, and the Ras placed both
hands upon his bowed head and mumbled the biblical words.

A warm soft drop fell upon Gregorius's neck, and he looked up
startled.

The tears were running down the dark wrinkled cheeks, and dripping
unashamedly from the Ras's chin.  Vicky Camberwell lay face down upon
the filthy earthen floor of one of the deserted tukuk on the outskirts
of the burning town.  The floor swarmed with legions of lice, and they
crawled softly over her skin, and their bites set up a burning
irritation.

Her hands were bound behind her back with strips of rawhide rope,

and her ankles were bound the same way.

Outside, she could hear the rustle and crackle of the burning town,
with an occasional louder crash as a roof collapsed.  There were also
the shouts and wild laughter of the Gallas, drunk on blood and te,

and the chilling sound of the few Harari captives who had been saved
from the initial massacre to provide entertainment during the long wait
before Ras Kullah arrived in the captured town.

Vicky did not know how long she had lain.  Her hands and feet were
without feeling, for the rawhide ropes were tightly knotted.  Her ribs
ached from the blow that had felled her, and the icy cold of the
mountain night had permeated her whole body so that the marrow in her
bones ached with it, and fits of shivering racked her as though she
were in fever.  Her teeth chattered uncontrollably and her lips were
blue and tight, but she could not move.  Any attempt to alter her
position or relieve her cramped limbs was immediately greeted with a
blow or a kick from the guards who stood over her.

At last her mind blacked out, not into sleep, for she could still dimly
hear the din from around the hut, but into a kind of coma in which
sense of time was lost, and the acute discomfort of the cold and her
bonds receded.

Hours must have passed in this stupor of exhaustion and cold, when she
was roused by another kick in her stomach and she gasped and sobbed
with the fresh pain of it.

She was aware immediately of a change in the volume of sound outside
the hut.  There were many hundreds of voices raised in an excited roar,
like that of a crowd at a circus.

Her guards dragged her roughly to her feet, and one of them stooped to
cut the rawhide that bound her ankles, and then straightened to do the
same to those at her wrists.  Vicky sobbed at the bright agony of blood
flowing back into her feet and hands.

Her legs collapsed under her and she would have fallen, but rough hands
held her and dragged her forward on her knees towards the low entrance
of the hut.  Outside, there was a dense pack of bodies that filled the
narrow street.

Dark menacing figures that pressed forward eagerly as she appeared in
the entrance of the hut, and a blood-crazed roar went up from the
crowd.

Her guards dragged her forward along the street, and the crowd swarmed
forward, keeping pace with her, and the roar of their voices was like
the sound of a winter storm.

Hands clutched at her, and her guards beat them away laughingly,

and hustled her onwards with her paralysed legs flopping weakly under
her.  They carried her forward into the goods yards of the railways,

through the steel gate, past the mountainous pile of naked mutilated
corpses, all that remained of men whom she had helped to nurse.

The yard was lit by the smoky fluttering light of hundreds of torches,
and it was only when she was almost up to the warehouse veranda that
she recognized the figure that lolled indolently upon his cushions,
using the raised concrete ramp as a grandstand from which to direct and
watch the execution.

Vicky's terror came rushing back like a black icy flood, and she tried
desperately to twist herself free of the clutching hands, but they
carried her forward and then lifted her suddenly.

Three of the heavy Galla lances had been set into the soft earth of the
yard in the form of a tripod, with the steel lance tips bound firmly at
the apex of the pyramid.  With a force that she could not resist, her
arms and legs were spread, and again she felt the lashing of rawhide at
her wrists and ankles.

Her captors fell back in a circle, and she found herself suspended from
the tripod of lances like a starfish, and the weight of her body cut
the leather straps viciously into her flesh.

She looked up.  Directly above her on the concrete ramp sat Ras

Kullah.  He said something to her in a high piping voice, but she did
not understand the words and she could only stare in fascinated terror
at his thick, soft lips.  The tip of his tongue came out and ran slowly
across his lips, like a fat golden cat.

He giggled suddenly and motioned to the two women who flanked him on
the cushions.  They came down into the yard, with their silver
jewellery tinkling and the multicoloured silk of their robes glowing in
the lamplight like the plumage of two beautiful birds of paradise.

As though they had rehearsed their movements, one went to each side of
Vicky as she hung on the tripod of lances.  Their faces were serene,
remote and lovely as two exotic blooms on the long graceful stems of
their necks.

It was only when they reached up to touch her that Vicky saw the little
silver knives in their hands, and she wriggled helplessly,

her head twisting to watch the blades.

With expert economical movements the two women slit the fabric of

Vicky's clothing, from the yoke of her blouse at the throat, down in a
single stroke to the hem of her skirt, and the dress fell away like an
autumn leaf, and dropped into the mud below her.

Ras Kullah clapped his hands with glee, and the dense pack of dark
bodies swayed and growled, pressing a little closer.

With the same unhurried knife strokes, the sheer silk of Vicky's
underwear was cut away and discarded, and she hung there naked and
vulnerable, unable to cover her pale smooth body, with the long finely
sculptured limbs spread and pinioned.

She dropped her head forward so that the golden hair fell forward and
covered her face.

One of the Galla women moved around until she faced Vicky directly. She
reached out with the little silver knife and touched the point to the
white skin just below the base of her throat where a pulse beat visibly
like a tiny trapped animal, and slowly, achingly slowly,

she drew the blade downwards.

Vicky's whole body convulsed, every limb stiffened and her back arched
rigidly so that the shape of the muscle stood out clearly beneath the
smooth unblemished skin.

Her head flew back, her eyes wide and staring, her mouth gaping open
and she screamed.

The woman drew the knife on downwards, between the tense straining
breasts.  The white skin opened to the shallow carefully controlled
razor point, and a vivid scarlet line marked the slow track of the
blade as it moved on inexorably downwards.

The voice of the crowd rose, a gathering roar like the sound of a storm
wind coming from afar, and Ras Kullah leaned forward on his cushions.
His eyes shone and the wet pink lips were parted.

Two things happened simultaneously.  From the darkness beyond the
station buildings, Priscilla the Pig burst out into the torch-lit
area.

Up until that moment when Jake Barton thrust down fully on the
throttle, the gentle hum of the engine had been drowned by the animal
roar of the crowd.

The heavy steel hull, driven by the full thrust of the old Bentley
engine, ploughed into the crowd and went through it like a combine
harvester through a field of standing wheat.  Without any slackening of
speed, it tore a pathway through the dense pack, directly towards the
clearing where Vicky hung on the tripod of lances.

At the same moment, Gareth Swales stepped out of the black oblong of
the warehouse door, directly behind where Ras Kullah sat.

He had the Italian rifle over the crook of his injured arm, and he
fired without lifting the butt to his shoulder.

The bullet smashed into the elbow of the Galla woman's knife arm,

and the arm snapped like a twig, the knife flew from the nerveless
fingers and the woman shrieked and collapsed into the mud at Vicky's
feet.

The second woman swirled, her right hand drew back like the head of a
striking adder, and she aimed the knife blade at Vicky's soft white
stomach; as she began the stroke that would plunge it hilt-deep,

Gareth moved the rifle muzzle fractionally and fired again.

The heavy bullet caught the woman in the exact centre of her golden
forehead.  The black hole -appeared there like a third empty eye
socket, and her head snapped backwards as though from a heavy blow.

As she went down, Gareth worked the bolt of the rifle and dropped the
muzzle, again only fractionally, but as Ras Kullah twisted around
desperately on his cushions, his mouth wide open and a gurgling cry
keening from the thick wet lips, the muzzle of the rifle was aimed
directly into the pink pit of his throat and Gareth fired the third
shot.  It shattered the front teeth in Ras Kullah's upper jaw, before
plunging on into his throat and then exiting through the back of the
neck.  The Ras went over backwards, and flapped and jumped like a
maimed frog.

Garet stepped over him, and jumped down lightly into the yard.  A

Galla rushed at him with a broadsword held high above his head.  Gareth
fired again without lifting the rifle, stepped over the body and
reached Vicky's side just as Jake Barton swung the car to a skidding
halt next to them and tumbled out of the driver's hatch with a Harari
dagger in his hand.

In the turret above them, Sara fired the Vickers in a long continuous
blast, swinging it back and forth in its limited traverse and the Galla
crowd scattered panic-stricken into the night.

Jake slashed the thongs that held Vicky suspended and she fell forward
into his arms.

Gareth stooped and gathered Vicky's torn clothing out of the mud and
bundled it under his injured armpit.

"Shall we move on now, old son?"  he asked Jake genially.

"I think the fun is over," and between them they lifted Vicky up the
side of the hull.

The drums brought Count Aldo Belli out of a troubled dream-plagued
sleep and he sat bolt upright from his hard couch on the floorboards of
the hull, with his eyes wide and staring, and -fumbled frantically for
his pistol.

"Gino!"  he shouted.  "Gino!"  and there was no reply.  Only that
terrible rhythm in the night, pounding against his head so that he
thought it might drive him mad.  He tried to close his ears, pressing
the palms of his hands to them, but the sound came through, like a
gigantic pulse, the heartbeat of this cruel and savage land.

He could bear it no longer, and he crawled up inside the hull until he
reached the rear hatch of the tank, and thrust his head out.

"Gino!"  He was answered instantly.  The little sergeant's head popped
up from where he had been cowering in his blankets on the rocky ground
between the steel tracks.  The Count could hear his teeth clattering in
his skull like typewriter keys.

"Send the driver to fetch Major Castelani, immediately."

"Immediately."  Gino's head disappeared, and a few moments later
appeared again so abruptly that the Count let out a startled cry and
pointed the loaded pistol between his eyes.

"Excellency,"squawked Gino.

"Idiot," snarled the Count, his voice husky with terror.  "I could have
killed you, don't you realize I have the reactions of a leopard?"

"Excellency, may I enter the machine?".

Aldo Belli thought about the request for a moment, and then enjoyed a
perverse pleasure in refusing.

"Make me a cup of coffee," he ordered, but when it came he found that
the incessant cacophony of drums that filled his head had worked on his
nerves to the point where he could not hold the mug steady, and the rim
rattled against his teeth.

"Goat's urine!"  snapped the Count, hoping that Gino had not noticed
the unsteady hand.  "You are trying to poison me," he accused and
tossed the steaming liquid over the side, and at that moment the stocky
figure of the Major loomed out of the darkness of the gorge.

"The men are standing to, Colonel he growled.  "In another fifteen
minutes it will be light enough-"

"Good.  Good."  The Count cut him short.  "I have decided that I should
return immediately to headquarters.  General Badoglio will expect
me-"

"Excellent Colonel,"

the Major interrupted in his turn.  "I have received intelligence that
large bands of the enemy have infiltrated our lines, and are operating
in the rear areas.

There is a good chance you might be able to bring them to account."
Castelani, by this time, knew his man intimately.

"Of course, with the small escort that can be spared, it will be a
desperate business."

"On the other hand, the Count mused aloud, "I

wonder if my heart does not lie here with my boys?  There comes a time
when a warrior must trust his heart rather than his head and I

warn you, Castellani, my fighting blood is aroused."

"Indeed, Colonel."

"I shall move up immediately," announced Aldo Belli, and glanced
anxiously back into the dark depths of the gorge.  His intention was to
place his command tank fairly in the centre of the armoured column,

protected from both front and rear.

The drumming continued, booming and pounding against his brain until he
felt he must scream aloud.

It seemed to emanate from the very earth, out of the fierce dark slope
of rock directly ahead, and it bounced and reverberated from the rock
walls of the gorge, driving in upon him in great hammers of sound.

Suddenly, the Count realized that the darkness was dispersing.  He
could make out the shape of a stunted cedar tree on the scree slope
above his position where, moments before, there had been only black
shades.  The tree looked like some misshapen monster, and quickly the

Count averted his eyes and looked upwards.

Between the mountains the narrow strip of sky was defined, a paler pink
light against the black brooding mass of rock.  He dropped his gaze and
looked ahead, the darkness retreated rapidly, and the dawn came with
dramatic African suddenness.

Then the beat of the drums stopped.  It was so abrupt, the transition
from a pounding sea of sound to the deathly, unearthly silence of the
African dawn in the mountains.

The shock of it held Aldo Belli transfixed and he peered, blinking like
an owl, up the gorge.

There was a new sound, thin and high as the sound of night birds
flying, plaintive and weird, an ululation that rose and fell so that it
was many moments before he recognized it as the sound of hundreds upon
hundreds of human voices; Suddenly he started, and his chin snapped
up.

"Mary, Mother of God," he whispered, as he stared up the gorge.

It seemed that the rock was rolling down swiftly upon them like a dark
fluid avalanche, and the ululation rose, becoming a wild loolooing
clamour.  Swiftly the light strengthened and the Count realized that
the avalanche was a sweeping tide of human shapes.

"Pray for us sinners," breathed the Count and crossed himself swiftly,
and at that instant he heard Castelani's voice, like the bellow of a
wild bull, out of the darkened Italian positions.

Instantly the machine guns opened together in a thunderous hammering
roar that drowned out all other sound.

The tide of humanity seemed no longer to be moving forward; like a wave
upon a rock it broke on the Italian guns, and milled and eddied about
the growing reef of their own fallen bodies.

The light was stronger now strong enough for the Count to see clearly
the havoc that the entrenched machine guns made of the massed charge of
Harari warriors.  They fell in thick swathes, dead upon dead,

as the guns traversed back and forth.  They piled up in banks in front
of the Italian positions so that those still coming on had to clamber
over the fallen, and when the guns swung back, they too fell building a
wall of bodies.

The Count's terror was forgotten in the fascination of the spectacle.
The racing figures coming down the narrow gorge seemed endless, like
ants from a disturbed nest.  Like fields of moving wheat,

and the guns reaped them with great scythe-strokes and piled them in
deep windrows.

Yet here and there, a few of the racing figures came on reached the
barbed wire that Castelani had strung, beat it down with their swords,
and were through.

Of those who breached the wire, most died on the very lips of the

Italian trenches, shot to bloody pieces by close range volleys of rifle
fire but a few, a very few came on still.  A group of three figures
leaped the wire at a point where two dead Ethiopians had fallen and
dragged it down, making a breach for those who followed.

They were led by a tall, skeletal figure in swirling white robes.

He was bald, the pate of his head gleaming like a black cannon ball,

and perfect white teeth shone in the sweat-coiled face.  He carried
only a sword, as long as the spread of a man's arms and as broad as the
span of his hand, and he swung the huge blade lightly about his head as
he j inked and dodged with the agility of a goat.

The two warriors who followed him carried ancient Martini-Henry rifles
which they fired from the hip as they ran, each shot blowing a long
thick blue flag of black powder smoke, while the leader swung the sword
above his head and loolooed a wild war cry.  A machine gun picked up
the group neatly and a single burst cut two of them down but the tall
leader came on at a dead run.

The Count, peering over the turret of the tank, was so astonished by
the man's persistence that his own fear was momentarily forgotten.

In the tank parked beside his, the machine gun fired, a ripping tearing
burst, and this time the racing white clad figure staggered slightly
and Aldo Belli saw the bullets strike, lifting tiny pale puffs of dust
from the warrior's robes, and leaving bloody splotches across his chest
yet he came on running, still howling, and he leaped the first line of
trenches, coming straight down towards the line of tanks, and it seemed
as though he had recognized the Count as his particular adversary.  His
charge seemed to be directed.  at him alone, and he was suddenly very
close.  Standing fascinated in the turret, Aldo Belli could clearly see
the staring eyes in the deeply lined face, and noticed the incongruity
of the man's rows of perfect white teeth.  His chest was sodden with
dark red blood, but the swinging sword in his hands hissed through the
air and the dawn light flickered on the blade like summer lightning.

The machine gun fired again, and this time the burst seemed to tear the
man's body to pieces.  The Count saw shreds of his clothing and flesh
fly from him in a cloud, yet incredibly he kept coming onwards,
staggering and dragging the sword beside him.

The last burst of fire struck him, and the sword dropped from his hand;
he sank to his knees, but kept crawling now he had seen the Count and
his eyes fastened on the white man's face.  He tried to shout
something, but the sound was drowned in a bright flooding gout of blood
that filled his open mouth.  The crawling, mutilated figure reached the
hull of the stationary tank, and the Italian almost as though in awe of
the man's tenacity.  guns fell silent

Laboriously, the dying warrior dragged his broken body up towards the
Count, watching him with a terrible dying anger, and the Count fumbled
nervously with the ivory butt of the Beretta, slipping a fresh clip of
cartridges into the recessed butt.

"Stop him, you fools," he cried.  "Kill him!  Don't let him get in."
But the guns were silent.

With shaking hands, the Count slapped the magazine home and lifted the
pistol.  At a range of six feet he sighted briefly into the crawling
Ethiopian.

He emptied the magazine of the Beretta in frantic haste, the shots
crashing out in rapid succession in the sudden silence that hung over
the field.

A bullet struck the warrior in the centre of his sweat-glazed forehead,
leaving a perfectly round black hole in the gleaming brown skin, and
the man slithered backwards and then rolled down the hull,

coming to rest at last upon his back, and he stared up at the swiftly
lightening sky with wide, unseeing eyes.  Out between the slack lips
dropped a set of artificial teeth, and the old mouth collapsed and fell
inwards.

The Count was shaking still, but then quite unexpectedly a surging
emotion swept away the terrors that had gripped him.  He felt a vast
proprietorial sense of emotional involvement with the man he had killed
he wanted to take some part of him, some trophy of his kill.  He wanted
to scalp him, or take his head and have it cured so that he might
preserve this moment for ever, but before he could move, there was the
shrilling of whistles, and a bugle began urgently to sound the
advance.

On the slope ahead of them, only the dead lay in their piles and
mounds, while the last of those who had survived that crazy suicidal
charge were disappearing like wisps of smoke back among the rocks.

The road to Sardi was open, and like the hard professional he was,

Luigi Castelani seized the chance.  As the bugle sang its brassy
command, the Italian infantry rose from the trenches, and the formation
of tanks rumbled forward.

The corpse of the ancient Harari warrior lay directly in the track of
the command tank, and the rumbling steel treads pressed it into the
rocky ground as it passed over, squashing it like the carcass of a
rabbit on a highway, as it bore Colonel Count Aldo Belli triumphantly
up the gorge to Sardi and the Dessie road.

At the wall of rock built right across the throat of the gorge, the
armoured column ground to a halt, blocked at the very lip of the
valley, and when the Italian infantry, who had moved under cover of the
black steel hulls, swarmed out to tear the wall down, they met another
wave of Ethiopian defenders who rose from where they had been lying
behind the wall, and immediately attackers and defenders had become so
entwined in a single struggling mass that the artillery and machine
guns could not fire for fear of gunning down their own.

Three times during the morning the infantry had been thrown back from
the wall, and the heavy artillery barrage that they had directed
against it made no impression on the granite boulders.  When the tanks
came clanking and squealing like great black beetles hunting for a
breach, there was none, and the trace had clawed sparks from the rock
but been unable to lift the great weight of steel at the acute angle
necessary to climb the wall.

Now there was a lull that had lasted almost half an hour, and

Gareth and Jake sat shoulder to shoulder, leaning against one of the
massive granite blocks.  Both of them were staring upwards at the
sky,

and it was Jake who broke the silence.

"There is the blue."  They saw it through the last eddying banks of
cloud that still clung like the white arms of a lover to the shoulder
of the mountain, but were slowly smeared away by the fresh dry breeze
off the desert.

A ray of brilliant sunlight burst into the valley, and threw a rainbow
of vivid colour in a mighty arc from mountain to mountain.

"That's beautiful," murmured Gareth Softly, staring upwards.

Jake drew the watch from his pocket, and glanced at the dial.

"Seven minutes past eleven."  He read the hands.  "Just about right now
they'll radio them that the clouds are open.

They'll be sitting in the cockpits, eager as fighting cocks."  He
patted the watch back into his pocket.  "In just thirty-five minutes
they'll be here."  Gareth straightened up and pushed the lank blond
hair off his forehead.

"I know one gentleman who won't be here when they come.

"Make that two, "Jake agreed.

"That's it, old son.  We've done our bit.  Old Lij Mikhael can't grouse
about a couple of minutes.  It will be as close to noon as pleasure is
to sin."

"What about these poor devils?"  Jake indicated the few hundreds of
Harari who crouched with them behind the wall of rock all that remained
of Ras Golam's army.

"As soon as we hear the bombers coming, they can beat it.  Off into the
mountains like a pack of long dogs-" after a bitch, "Jake finished for
him, and grinned.

"Precisely."

"Someone will have to explain it to them."

"I'll go and fetch young Sara to tell them," and he crawled away, using
the wall as cover from the Italian snipers who had taken up position in
the cliffs above them.

Priscilla the Pig was parked five hundred yards back in a grassy
wrinkle of ground, under a screen of cedar trees, beside the road.

Gareth saw immediately that Vicky had recovered from the state of
collapse in which they had found her, although she was haggard and
pale, and the torn rags of her clothing were filthy, stained with dried
blood from the long flesh wound between her breasts.  She was helping

Sara with the boy who lay on the floorboards of the cabin, and she
looked up with an expression which told of regained strength and
determination.

"How is he doing?  "Gareth asked, leaning forward through the open rear
doors.  The boy had been hit twice and been carried back from the
killing-ground of the gorge by two of his loyal tribes men.

"He will be all right, I think," said Vicky, and Gregorius opened his
eyes and whispered, "Yes, I'll be all right."

"Well, that's more than you deserve," grunted Gareth.  "I left you in
charge not leading the charge."

"Major Swales."  Sara looked up fiercely, protective as a mother.  "It
was the bravest-"

"Spare me from brave and honest men,"

Gareth drawled.

"Cause of all the trouble in the world."  And before Sara could flash
at him again he went on, "Come along with me, my dear.  Need you to do
a bit of translating."  Reluctantly she left Gregorius and climbed down
out of the car.  Vicky followed her, and stood close to Gareth beside
the side of the hull.

"Are you all right?  "she asked.

"Never better," he assured her, but now she noticed for the first time
the flush of unnatural colour in his cheeks and the feverish glitter in
his eyes.

Quickly she reached out and before he could prevent it she took the
hand of his injured arm.  It was swollen like a balloon, and it had
turned a sickly greenish purple.  She leaned forward to sniff the
filthy stained rags that covered the arm, and she felt her gorge rise
at the sweet stench of putrefaction.

Alarmed, she reached up and touched his cheek.

"Gareth, you are hot as a furnace."

"Passion, old girl.  The touch of your lily-white, "Let me look at your
arm, "she demanded.

"Better not."  He smiled at her, but she caught the iron in his voice.
"Let sleeping dogs lie, what?  Nothing we can do about it until we get
back to civilization."

"Gareth-"

"Then my dear, I will buy you a large bottle of Charlie, and send for
the preacher man."

"Gareth, be serious."

"I am serious."  Gareth touched her cheek with the fingers of his good
hand.  "That was a proposal of marriage, "he said, and she could feel
the fiery heat of the fever in his finger, tips.

"Oh Gareth!  Gareth!"

"By which I take it you mean thanks, but no thanks."  She nodded
silently, unable to speak.

"Jake?"he asked, and she nodded again.

"Oh well, you could have done a lot better.  Me, for instance,"

and he grinned, but the pain was there with the fever in his eyes, deep
and poignant.  "On the other hand, you could have done a lot worse." He
turned away abruptly to Sara, taking her arm.  "Come along, my dear."

Then over his shoulder, "We'll be back as soon as the bombers come.

Get ready to run."

"Where to?  "she called after them.

"I don't know," he grinned.  "But we'll try to think of a pleasant
place."  Jake heard them first, so far off that it was only the
hive-sound of bees on a drowsy summer's day, and almost immediately it
was gone again, blanketed by the mountains.

"Here they come," he said, and almost immediately, as if in
confirmation, a shell burst under the lee of the rock wall, fired from
the Italian battery a mile down the gorge.  The yellow smoke from the
marker poured a thick column into the still sunlit air.

"Move!"  shouted Gareth, and placed the silver command whistle between
his lips and blew a series of sharp blasts.

But by the time they had hurried along the wall, making certain that
all the Harari had understood and were running back down the valley
into the cedar forests, the drone of approaching engines was growing
louder.

"Let's go!"  called Jake urgently, and caught Gareth's good arm.

They turned and ran, pelting back across the open ground to the lip of
the valley, and Jake looked back over his shoulder as they reached
it.

The first gigantic bomber came out of the mouth of the gorge, and the
spread of its black wings seemed to darken the sky.  Two bombs fell
from under it; one burst short but the second struck the wall, and the
blast knocked them both off their feet, slamming them savagely against
the earth.

When Jake lifted his head again, he saw through the fumes and smoke the
gaping breach it had blown in the rock wall.

"Well, now the party is definitely over," he said, and hauled

Gareth to his feet.

Where are we going?"  shouted Vicky from the cabin below them, and
neither Jake in the driver's seat nor Gareth in the turret replied.

"Can't we just drive up the road to Dessie?"  Sara demanded; she sat
cross-legged on the floor of the cabin with Gregorius's head cushioned
on her lap.  "We could fight our way through those cowardly

Gallas."

"We've got enough gas to take us about another five miles."

"Our best bet is to drive to the foot of Ambo Sacal."  Gareth pointed
to the towering bulk of the mountain that rose sheer into the southern
sky.  "Ditch the car there and try and make it on foot across the
mountains."  Vicky crawled up into the turret beside him, and thrust
her head out of the hatch.  Together they stared up at the sheer sides
of the Ambo.

"What about Gregorius?"she asked.

"We'll have to carry him."

"We'll never make it.  The mountains are crawling with Gallas."

"Have you got a better idea?"  Gareth asked,

and she looked despairingly around her.

Priscilla the Pig was the only thing that moved in the whole valley.
The Harari had vanished into the rocky ground on the slopes of the
mountains, and behind them the Italian tanks had not yet come in over
the lip of the valley.

She lifted her eyes to the sky again, where only a few wreaths of cloud
still clung to the peaks, and suddenly her whole mood changed.

Her chin came up, and new colour flooded into her cheeks her hand shook
as she pointed up between the peaks.

"Yes," she cried.  "Yes, I've got a better idea.  Look!  Oh, won't "you
look!"  The tiny blue aircraft caught the sun as it banked in steeply,
turning in under the rearing granite cliffs, and it flashed like a
dragonfly in flight.

"Italian?"  Gareth stared up at it.

"No!  No!  Vicky shook her head.  "It's Lij Mikhael's plane.

I recognize it.  It came to fetch him here before."  She was laughing
almost hysterically, her eyes shining.  "He said he would send it,
that's what he was trying to tell me before he was cut off."

"Where will it land?"  Gareth demanded, and Vicky scrambled down into
the driver's compartment to direct him towards the polo field beyond
the burned and still smoking town.

They watched anxiously, all of them except Gregorius, standing on the
edge of the open field close beside the bulk of the car, all their
heads craning to watch the little blue aircraft circle.

"What the hell is he doing?  "Jake demanded angrily.  "The Eyeties will
be here before he makes up his mind."

"He's nervous," Gareth guessed.  "He doesn't know what the hell is
going on down here.  From where he is, he can see the town has been
destroyed, and he can probably see the tanks and the trucks following
us down from the gorge."  Vicky turned from them and ran back to the
car; she climbed up on to the turret and stood high, waving both arms
above her head.

On the next circuit the little blue Puss Moth dropped lower, and they
could see the pilot's face in the side window of the cockpit peering
down at them.  He banked steeply over the smoking remains of the town,
with the lower wing pointing directly at the earth and then he came
back at them, this time only ten feet above the field.

He was staring at Vicky, and with a lift of her heart she recognized
the same young white pilot as had flown Lij Mikhael.  He recognized her
at the same instant, and she saw him grin and lift a hand in salute as
he flashed past.

As he came out of his next turn, he was lined up on the field for his
landing and he touched down and taxied tail-up to where they stood.

As the light aircraft rolled to a halt, they crowded up to the cabin
door.  The wash of the propeller buffeted them savagely and the pilot
slid back the pane of his window and shouted above the noise of his
engine.

"I can take three small ones or two big ones."  Jake and Gareth
exchanged a single brief glance and then Jake jerked the cabin door and
roughly they thrust the two girls into the tiny cramped cabin.

"Hold it," Gareth shouted into the pilot's ear.  "We've got another
small one for you."  They carried Gregorius between them, trying to be
as gentle as haste would allow.  The pilot was already turning the
machine into the wind and they staggered after it lifting the boy's
body into the open door as it was moving.

"Jake-"Vicky shouted, and her eyes were wild with grief.

"Don't worry," Jake shouted back, as they tumbled Greg.

onus across the girls" laps.  "We'll get out just remember I

love you."

"I love you, too," Vicky called back, and her eyes swam with bright
tears.  "Oh Jake-" He was struggling to close the cabin door,

running beside the fuselage as the aircraft gathered speed for the
take-off, but one of Gregorius's feet was holding it open.  Jake
stopped to free the foot, and rifle-fire snapped past his head, and
twanged into the canvas fabric of the fuselage.

He looked up in time to see the next shot star the side window of the
cockpit and then go on to strike the young pilot in the temple,

killing him instantly, and knocking his body sideways so that it hung
drunkenly out of the seat, held only by the shoulder straps.

The aircraft slewed sideways at the loss of control, and Jake saw

Vicky reach over the pilot's body and close the throttle, but he was
turning away and running back towards Priscilla the Pig.

More rifle-fire kicked up spurts of dust around them as they ran.

"Where are they?  "he shouted at Gareth.

"On the left."  Jake twisted his head and glimpsed the Italians in the
scrub and grass two hundred yards away on the edge of the field.

Beyond them was parked the transport that had carried them ahead of the
lumbering tank formation.

Priscilla's engine was still running, and he headed her in .  k turn
for the riflemen in the grass.  Above him, a qUIC Gareth fired the

Vickers and the Italians jumped up and ran like rabbits.

One quick pass scattered them and a burst of Vickers fire exploded the
transport in a dragon's breath of flame, and then Jake swung the car
back to where the little blue aircraft stood forlornly on the edge of
the field.  He parked the tall steel hull close beside her to screen
her from Italian snipers.

Sara and Vicky between them had dragged the pilot's body out of the
cockpit.  He was a big man, heavy in the shoulder and belly, and the
blood oozed from the bullet hole in his temple into the thick mop of
his hair as he lay on his back in the short grass under the wing.

Vicky turned away from him and scrambled up into the cockpit settling
herself behind the controls.

"Jesus!"  said Jake, relief shining on his face.  "She said she could
fly."  A .  rifle bullet spranged against Priscilla's hull and went
wailing away over their heads.

Gareth glanced down at the pilot's body.  "He was a big one, poor
beggar."

"There's room for one more now," Vicky shouted from the cockpit; "with
both of you we'd never make it over the mountains," and they saw what
torture the words caused her.

Another bullet clanged against steel.  "We can take only one more."

"Spin you for it."  Gareth had the silver Maria Theresa on his thumb
and he grinned at Jake.

"Heads," said Jake and it spun silver in the sunlight and Gareth caught
it in the palm of his good hand and glanced at Jake..

"It had to come your turn at last."  Gareth's grin lifted the corners
of his mouth.  "Well done, old son.  off you go."  But Jake caught the
wrist, and twisted it.  He glanced at the coin.

"Tails," he snapped.  "I always knew you were a cheat, you bastard,"
and he turned away towards Vicky.  "I'll cover the take-off,

Vicky, I'll keep Priscilla between you and the Eyeties as long as I

can."  Behind him, Gareth stooped and picked up a stone the size of a
gull's egg out of the grass.

"Sorry, old son," he drawled.  "But I owe you two already," and
tenderly he tapped Jake above the right ear with the stone held in the
cup of his hand, and then dropped the stone and caught him under the
armpits as his legs sagged and he began to collapse.

He put his knee under Jake's backside and with a heave boosted him
headfirst and unconscious through the cabin door.  Then he put his foot
on Jake's protruding posterior and thrust him farther into the cramped
cabin until he could slam and lock the door.

Rifle-fire pounded and crashed against the screening hull of

Priscilla.  Gareth reached into his inside pocket and pulled out the
pigskin wallet.  He dropped it through the side window into Vicky's lap
as she sat at the controls.

"Tell Jake if I'm not there on the first to cash the Lijs cheque and
buy You a bottle of Charlie from me, and when you drink it,

remember I really did love you,-" Before she could reply he had turned
and darted back to the armoured car and scrambled up into the driver's
hatch.

Like a team in harness, the car and the little blue aircraft ran side
by side down the open field and the Italian fire drummed against the
steel hull of the car.

Then slowly the heavily laden aircraft drew ahead of the speeding car,
but by then they were beyond effective rifle range, and as Vicky felt
the Puss Moth come alive and the wheels bumped clear of the rough turf,
she glanced quickly backwards.

Gareth stood in the driver's hatch, and she saw his lips Move as he
shouted after her, and he lifted his bandaged arm in a gesture of
farewell.

She did not hear the words, but she read them upon his lips.

"Noli il legitimi carborundum," and saw the flash of that devilish
buccaneer smile, before the aircraft lifted away from the earth and she
must turn all her attention back to it.

are th halted Priscilla at the edge of the field and he stood in the
hatch, shielding his eyes with his good 3hand, and watched the little
blue aircraft climb laboriously into the thin mountain air.

Again it caught the sun and flashed as it turned unsteadily towards the
gap in the mountains where the pass led up into the highlands.

His whole attention was fixed on the dwindling speck of blue, so that
he did not see the three CV.3 tanks crawl out of the main street of the
village five hundred yards away.

He was still staring upwards as the tanks stopped, rocking gently on
their suspensions, and the turrets with the long Spandaus traversed
around towards him.

He did not hear the crash of cannon for the shell struck long before
the sound carried to him.  There was only the earth stopping impact and
the burst of shell that hurled him from the hatch.

He lay on the earth beside the shattered hull, and he felt downwards
with his good hand, for there was something wrong with his stomach.  He
groped down, and there was nothing where his stomach should have been,
just a gaping hole into which his hand sunk, as though into the soft
warm flesh of a rotten fruit.

He tried to withdraw his hand, but it would not move.

There was no longer muscular control, and it grew darker.

He tried to open his eyes and then realized that they were wide open,
staring up at the bright sky.  The darkness was in his head, and the
cold was in his whole body.

In the darkness and the icy cold, he heard a voice say in Italian,

"E marta he is dead."  And he thought with mild surprise, "Yes, I am.

This time, I am," and he tried to grin, but his lips would not move and
he went on staring up at the sky with pale blue eyes.

He is dead," repeated Gino.

"Are you certain?"  Count Aldo Belli demanded from the turret of the
tank.

"Si, I am certain."  Warily the Count climbed down the hull.

"You are right," he agreed, studying the man.  "He is truly dead. "Then
he straightened up and puffed out his chest.

"Gino," he commanded.  "Get a picture of me with the cadaver of the
English bandit."  And Gino backed away, staring into the viewfinder of
the big black camera.

"Chin up a little, my Colonel," he instructed.

Vicky Camberwell brought the Puss Moth out over the final crest of the
pass, with a mere two hundred feet to spare, for the small overladen
aircraft was fast approaching its ceiling.

Ahead of her, the highlands stretched away to Addis Ababa in the south.
Below her passed the thin raw muddy bisecting lines of the

Dessie road.  She saw the road was deserted.  The army of Ethiopia had
passed.  The fish had slipped through the net but the thought gave her
no pleasure.

She turned in her seat and looked back, down the long gloomy corridor
of the Sardi Gorge.  From the cliffs on each side of the gorge, the
rain waters still fell in silver white waterfalls and muddy cataracts
so that it seemed that even the mountains wept.

She straightened up in her seat, and lifting her hand to her face she
found without surprise that her own cheek was wet and slick with
tears.

EAGLE IN THE SKY [047-066-4.9]

BY WILBUR SMITH

Synopsis:

With a dull but awful roar, the Mirage bloomed with dark crimson flame
and sooty black smoke, the wind ripped flames outwards in great
streamers and pennants that engulfed all around them, and David
staggered onwards in the midst of the roaring furnace that seemed to
consume the very air.

Drawn to the sky as though to his natural element, young David Morgan
spurns the boardroom future mapped out for him by his family for the
life of a jet pilot.  Then he meets Debra the beautiful Israeli writer
for whom he will fight, in another country's war, at the controls of his
Mirage.  Yet the breathless action which brings them together is also
the very tragedy that will threaten to tear them apart.

The novels of Wilbur Smith

The Courtney Novels:

When the Lion Feeds

The Sound of Thunder

A Sparrow Falls

The Burning Shore

Power of the Sword

Rage

A Time to Die

The Ballantyne novels:

A Falcon Flies

Men of Men

The Angels Weep

The Leopard Hunts in Darkness

Also:

The Dark of the Sun

Shout at the Devil

Gold Mine

The Diamond Hunters

The Sunbird

Eagle in the Sky

The Eye of the Tiger

Cry Wolf

Hungry as the Sea

Wild Justice

Golden Fox

Elephant Song

Eagle in The Sky

Wilbur Smith was born in Central Africa in 1933.  He was educated at
Michael-house and Rhodes University.

He became a full-time writer in 1964 after the successful publication of
When the Lion Feeds, and has since written twenty-three novels,
meticulously researched on his numerous expeditions worldwide.

He normally travels from November to February, often spending a month
skiing in Switzerland, and visiting Australia and New Zealand for sea
fishing.  During his summer break, he visits environments as diverse as
Alaska and the dwindling wilderness of the African interior.  He has an
abiding concern for the peoples and wildlife of his native continent, an
interest strongly reflected in his novels.

He is married to Danielle, to whom his last nineteen books have been
dedicated.

WILBUR SMITH A Mandarin Paperback

EAGLE IN THE SKY

First published in Great Britain x974 by William Heinemann Ltd

This edition published 11992 by Mandarin Paperbacks an imprint of Reed
International Books Limited Michelin House, 8i Fulham, Road, London SW3
6RB and Auckland, Melbourne, Singapore and Toronto Reprinted 1993
(twice), 1994 (twice), 1995 (three times), i996 (three times)

Copyright C Wilbur Smith 1974

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British
Library

ISBN 0 7493 o622 X

Photo-type-set by Intype, London

Printed and bound in Great Britain by Cox &Wyman Ltd, Reading, Berkshire

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of
trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated
without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover
other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition
including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Acknowledgements

While writing this story I had valuable help from a number of people.
Major Dick Lord and Lieutenant Peter Cooke gave me advice on the
technique and technicalities of modern fighter combat.  Dr. Robin
Sandell and Dr. David Davies provided me with the medical details.  A
brother angler, the Rev.  Bob Redrup, helped with the choice of the
title.  To them all I am

sincerely grateful.

While in Israel many of the citizens of that state gave help and
hospitality in generous measure.  It grieves me

that I may not mention their names.

As always my faithful research assistant gave comfort,

encouragement and criticism when it was most needed.

This book is dedicated to her son, my stepson, Dieter Schmidt.

Three things are too wonderful for me, four I do not understand, The way
of an eagle in the sky, The way of a serpent on a rock, The way of a
ship on the high seas,

And the way of a man with a maiden.

Proverbs, 30, -8-2o

There was snow on the mountains of the Hottentots, Holland and the wind
came off it, whimpering like a lost animal.  The instructor stood in the
doorway of his tiny office and hunched down into his flight jacket,
thrusting his fists deeply into the fleece-lined pockets. He watched the
black chauffeur-driven Cadillac coming down between the cavernous
iron-clad hangars, and he frowned sourly.  For the trappings of wealth.

Barney Venter had a deeply aching gut-envy.

The Cadillac swung in and parked in a visitors slot against the hangar
wall, and a boy sprang from the rear door with boyish enthusiasm, spoke
briefly with the coloured chauffeur, then hurried towards Barney.

He moved with a lightness that was strange for an adolescent.  There was
no stumbling over feet too big for his body, and he carried himself
tall.  Barney's envy curdled as he watched the young princeling
approach.

He hated these pampered darlings, and it was his particular fate that he
must spend so much of his working day in their company.  Only the very
rich could afford to instruct their children in the mysteries of flight.

He was reduced to this by the gradual running down of his body, the
natural attrition of time.  Two years previously, at the age of
forty-five, he had failed the strict medical on which his position of
senior airline captain depended, and now he was going down the other
side of the hill, probably to end as a typical fly-burn, steering tired
and beaten-up heaps on unscheduled and shady routes for unlicensed and
unprincipled charter companies.

The knowledge made him growl at the child who stood before him.  Master
Morgan, I presume?

Yes, Sir, but you may call me David.  The boy offered his hand and
instinctively Barney took it, immediately wishing he had not.  The hand
was slim and dry, but with a hard grip of bone and sinew.

Thank you, David.  Barney was heavy on irony.  And you may continue to
call me "Sir".

He knew the boy was fourteen years old, but he stood almost level with
Barney's five-foot-seven.  David smiled at him and Barney was struck
almost as by a physical force by the boy's beauty.  It seemed as though
each detail of his features had been wrought with infinite care by a
supreme artist.  The total effect was almost unreal, theatrical.  It
seemed indecent that hair should curl and glow so darkly, that skin
should be so satiny and delicately tinted, or that eyes possess such
depth and fire.

Barney became aware that he was staring at the boy, that he was falling
under the spell that the child seemed so readily to weave, and he turned
away abruptly.

Come on.  He led the way through his office with its fly-blown nude
calendars and handwritten notices carrying terse admonitions against
asking for credit, or making right-hand circuits.

What do you know about flying?  he asked the boy as they passed through
the cool gloom of the hangar where gaudily coloured aircraft stood in
long rows, and out again through the wide doors into the bright mild
winter sunshine.

Nothing, Sir.  The admission was refreshing, and Barney felt his mood
sweeten slightly.

But you want to learn?

Oh, yes Sir!  The reply was emphatic and Barney glanced at him.  The
boy's eyes were so dark as to be almost black, only in the sunlight did
they turn deep indigo blue.

All right then, let's begin.  The aircraft was waiting on the concrete
apron.

This is a Cessna 150 high-wing monoplane.  Barney began the walk-around
check with David following attentively, but when he started a brief
explanation of the control surfaces and the principle of lift and
wingloading, he became aware that the boy knew more than he had owned up
to.  His replies to Barney's rhetorical questions were precise and
accurate.

You've been reading, Barney accused.

Yes, Sir, David admitted, grinning.  His teeth were of peculiar
whiteness and symmetry and the smile was irresistible.  Despite himself,
Barney realized he was beginning to like the boy.

Right, jump in.  Strapped into the cramped cockpit shoulder to Shoulder,
Barney explained the controls and instruments, then led into the
starting procedure.Master switch on.  He flipped the red button.

Right , turn that key, same as in a car.

David leaned forward and obeyed.  The prop spun and the engine fired and
kicked, surged, then settled into a satisfying healthy growl.  They
taxied down the apron with David quickly developing his touch on the
rudders, and paused for the final checks and radio procedure before
swinging wide on to the runway.

Right, pick an object at the end of the runway.  Aim for it and open the
throttle gently.

Around them the machine became urgent, and it buzzed busily towards the
far-off fence markers.

Ease back on the wheel.

And they were airborne, climbing swiftly away from the earth.

Gently, said Barney.  Don't freeze on to the controls.

Treat her like, he broke off.  He had been about to liken the aircraft
to a woman, but realized the unsuitability of the simile.  Treat her
like a horse.  Ride her light Instantly he felt David's death-grip on
the wheel relax, the touch repeated through his own controls.

That's it, David.  He glanced sideways at the boy, and felt a flare of
disappointment.  He had felt deep down in his being that this one might
be bird, one of the very rare ones like himself whose natural element
was the blue.  Yet here in the first few moments of flight the child was
wearing an expression of frozen terror.  His lips and nostrils were
trimmed with marble white and there were shadows in the dark blue eyes
like the shape of sharks moving beneath the surface of a summer sea.

Left wing up, he snapped, disappointed, trying to shock him out of it.
The wing came up and held rock steady, with no trace of over-correction.

Level her out.  His own hands were off the controls as the nose sank to
find the horizon.

Throttle back.  The boy's right hand went unerringly to the throttle.
once more Barney glanced at him.  His expression had not altered, and
then with a sudden revelation Barney recognized it not as fear, but as
ecstasy.

He is bird.  The thought gave him a vast satisfaction, and while they
flew on through the basic instruction in trim and attitude, Barney's
mind went back thirty years to a battered old yellow Tiger Moth and
another child in his first raptures of flight.

They skirted the harsh blue mountains, wearing their mantles of
sun-blazing snow, and rode the tail of the wild winds that came down off
them.

Wind is like the sea, David.  It breaks and swirls around high ground.
Watch for it.  David nodded as he listened to his first fragments of
flying lore, but his eyes were fixed ahead savouring each instant of the
experience.

They turned north over the bleak bare land, the earth naked pink and
smoky brown, stripped by the harvest of its robes of golden wheat.

Wheel and rudder together, David, Barney told him.Let's try a steep turn
now.  Down went the wing and boldly the nose swept around holding its
attitude to the horizon.

Ahead of them the sea broke in long lines of cream on the white beaches.
The Atlantic was cold green and ruffled by the wind, flecked with
dancing white.

South again, following the coastline where small figures on the white
sand paused to look up at them from under shading hands, south towards
the great flat mountain that marked the limit of the land, its shape
unfamiliar from this approach.

The shipping lay thick in the bay and the winter sunlight flashed from
the windows of the white buildings huddling below the steep wooded sides
of the mountain.

Another turn, confident and sure, Barney sitting with his hands in his
lap and his feet off the rudder bars, and they ran in over the Tygerberg
towards the airfield.

Okay, said Barney.  I've got her.  And he took them in for the
touch-down and taxied back to the concrete apron beside the hangars.  He
pulled the mixture control fully lean and let the engine starve and die.

They sat silent for a moment, neither of them moving or speaking, both
of them unwinding but still aware that something important and
significant had happened and that they had shared it.

Okay?  Barney asked at last.

Yes, sir, David nodded, and they unstrapped and climbed down on to the
concrete stiffly.  Without speaking they walked side by side through the
hangar and office.  At the door they paused.

Next Wednesday?  Barney asked.

Yes, sir.  David left him and started towards the waiting Cadillac, but
after a dozen steps he stopped, hesitated, then turned back.

That was the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me, he said
shyly.  Thank you, sir.  And he hurried away leaving Barney staring
after him.

The Cadillac pulled off, gathering speed, and disappeared round a bend
amongst the trees beyond the last buildings.  Barney chuckled, shook his
head ruefully and turned back into his office.  He dropped into the
ancient swivel chair and crossed his ankles on the desk.  He fished a
crumpled cigarette from the pack, straightened and lit it.

Beautiful?  he grunted, grinning.  Crap!  He flicked the match at the
waste bin and missed it.

The telephone woke Mitzi Morgan and she crept out from under her pillows
groping blindly for it.

"Lo.

Mitzi?

Hi, Dad, are you coming up?  She came half-awake at her father's voice,
remembering that this was the day he would fly up to join the family at
their holiday home.

Sorry, baby.  Something has broken here.  I won't be up until next week.

Oh, Dad!  Mitzi expressed her disappointment.

Where's Davey?  her father went on quickly to forestall any
recriminations.

You want him to call you back?

No, I'll hold on.  Call him, please, baby.

Mitzi stumbled out of bed to the mirror, and with her fingers tried to
comb some order into her hair.  It was off-blonde and wiry, and fuzzed
up tight at the first touch of sun or salt or wind.  The freckles were
even more humiliating she decided, looking at herself disapprovingly.

You look like a Pekinese, she spoke aloud, a fat little Pekinese, with
freckles, and gave up the effort of trying to change it.  David had seen
her like this a zillion times.

She pulled a silk gown over her nudity and went out into the passage,
past the door to her parents suite where her mother slept alone, and
into the living area of the house.

The house was stacked in a series of open planes and galleries, glass
and steel and white pine, climbing out of the dunes along the beach,
part of sea and sky, only glass separating it from the elements, and now
the dawn filled it with a strange glowing light and made a feature of
the massive headland of the Robberg that thrust out into the sea across
the bay.

The playroom was scattered with the litter of last night's party, twenty
house guests and as many others from the big holiday homes along the
dunes had left their mark, spied beer, choked ashtrays and records
thrown carelessly from their covers.

Mitzi picked her way through the debris and climbed the circular
staircase to the guest rooms.  She checked David's door, found it open,
and went in.  The bed was untouched, but his denims and sweat shirt were
thrown across the chair and his shoes had been kicked off carelessly.

Mitzi grinned, and went through on to the balcony.  it hung high above
the beach, level with the gulls which were already dawn-winging for the
scraps that the sea had thrown up during the night.

Quickly Mitzi hoisted the gown up around her waist, climbed up onto the
rail of the balcony and stepped over the drop to the rail of the next
balcony in line.  She jumped down, drew the curtains aside and went into
Marion's bedroom.

Marion was her best friend.  Secretly she knew that this happy state of
affairs existed chiefly because she, Mitzi, provided a foil for Marion's
petite little body and wide-eyed doll-like beauty, and was a source of
neverending gifts and parties, free holidays and other good things.

She looked so pretty now in sleep, her hair golden and soft as it fanned
out across David's chest.  Mitzi transferred all her attention to her
cousin, and felt that sliding sensation in her breast and the funny warm
liquid sensation at the base of her belly as she looked at him.  He was
seventeen years old now, but already he had the body of a grown man.

He was her most favourite person in all the world, she thought.  He's so
beautiful, so tall and straight and beautiful, and his eyes can break
your heart.

The couple on the bed had thrown aside their covering in the warmth of
the night, and there was hair on David's chest now, thick and dark and
curly, there was muscle in arm and leg, and breadth across the
shoulders.

David, she called softly, and touched his shoulder.Wake up.  His eyes
opened, and he was awake instantly, his gaze focused and aware.

mitz?  What is it?Get your pants on, warrior.  My papa's on the
line."God.  David sat up, dropping Marion's head on to the pillow.  What
time is it?  Late, Mitzi told him.  You should set the alarm when you go
visiting.  Marion mumbled a protest and groped for the sheets as David
jumped from the bed.

Where's the phone?  In my room, but you can take it on the extension in
yours.  She followed him across the balcony railing, and curled up on
David's bed while he picked up the receiver and with the extension cord
trailing behind him began pacing the thick carpet restlessly.

Uncle Paul?  David spoke.  How are you?  Mitzi groped in the pocket of
her gown and found a Gauloise.  She lit it with her gold Dunhill, but at
the third puff David turned aside from his pacing, grinned at her, took
the cigarette from between her lips and drew deeply upon it.

Mitzi pulled a face at him to disguise the turmoil that his nakedness
stirred within her, and selected another cigarette for herself.

He'd die if he knew what I was thinking, she told herself, and derived a
little comfort from the thought.

David finished his conversation and cradled the receiver before turning
to her.

He's not coming.  I know.

But he is sending Barney up in the Lear to fetch me.

Big pow-wow.

It figures, Mitzi nodded, then began a convincing imitation of her
father.  We have to start thinking about your future now, my boy.  We
have to train you to meet the responsibilities with which destiny has
entrusted you.

David chuckled and rummaged for his running shorts in the drawer of his
bureau.I suppose I'll have to tell him now."Yes, Mitzi agreed.  You sure
will have to do that.David pulled up his shorts and turned for the
door.Pray for me, doll.

You'll need more than prayer, warrior, said Mitzi comfortably.

The tide had swept the beach smooth and firm, and no other feet had
marked it this early.  David ran smoothly, long strides leaving damp
footsteps in a chain behind him.

The sun came up casting a soft pink sheen on the sea, and touching the
Outeniqua mountains with flame, but David ran unseeing.  His thoughts
were on the impending interview with his guardian.

It was a time of crisis in his life, high school completed and many
roads open.  He knew the one he had chosen would draw violent
opposition, and he used these last few hours of solitude to gather and
strengthen his resolve.

A conclave of gulls, gathered about the body of a stranded fish, rose in
cloud as he ran towards them, their wings catching the low sun as they
hovered then dropped again when he passed.

He saw the Lear coming before he heard it.  It was low against the dawn,
rising and dropping over the towering bulk of the Robberg.  Then
swiftly, coming in on a muted shriek, it streaked low along the beach
towards him.

David stopped, breathing lightly even after the long run, and raised
both arms above his head in salute.  He saw Barney's head through the
Perspex canopy turned towards him, the flash of his teeth as he grinned
and the hand raised, returning his salute as he went by.

The Lear turned out to sea, one wingtip almost touching the wave crests,
and it came back at him.  David stood on the exposed beach and steeled
himself as the long sleek nose dropped lower and lower, aimed like a
javelin at him.

Like some fearsome predatory bird it swooped at him and at the last
possible instant David's nerve broke and he flung himself on to the wet
sand.  The jet blast lashed him as the Lear rose and turned inland for
the airfield.

Son of a bitch, muttered David as he stood up brushing damp sand from
his bare chest, and imagined Barney's amused chuckle.

I taught him good, thought Barney, sprawled in the copilot's seat of the
Lear as he watched David ride the delicate line of altitude where skill
gave way to chance.

Barney had put on weight since he had been eating Morgan bread, and his
paunch peeked shyly over his belt.  The beginning of jowls bracketed the
wide downturned mouth that gave him the air of a disgruntled toad, and
the cap of hair that covered his skull was sparser and speckled with
salt.

Watching David fly, he felt the small warmth of his affection for him
that his sour expression belied.  Three years he had been chief pilot of
the Morgan group and he knew well to whose intervention he owed the
post.

It was security he had now, and prestige.  He flew great men in the most
luxuriously fitted machines, and when the time came for him to go out to
pasture he knew the grazing would be lush.  The Morgan group looked
after its own.

This knowledge sat comfortably on his stomach as he watched his protege
handle the jet.

Extended low flying like this required enormous concentration, and
Barney watched in vain for any relaxation of it in his pupil.

The long golden beaches of Africa streamed steadily beneath them,
punctuated by rock promontories and tiny resorts and fishing villages.
Delicately the Lear followed the contours of the coastline, for they had
spurned the direct route for the exhilaration of this flight.

Ahead of them stretched another strip of beach but as they howled low
along it they saw that this one was occupied.

A pair of tiny feminine figures left the frothy surf and ran
panic-stricken to where towels and discarded bikinis lay above the
high-water mark.  White buttocks contrasted sharply with a coffee-brown
tan, and they laughed delightedly.

Nice change for you to see them running away, David, Barney grinned as
they left the tiny figures far behind and bore onwards into the south.

From Cape Agulhas they turned inland, climbing steeply over the mountain
ranges, then David eased back on the throttles and they sank down beyond
the crests towards the city, nestling under its mountain.

As they walked side by side towards the hangar, Barney looked up at
David who now topped him by six inches.

Don't let him stampede you, boy, he warned.  You've made your decision.
See you stick to it.  David took his British racing green M.G.  over De
Wool Drive, and from the lower slopes of the mountain looked down to
where the Morgan building stood four-square amongst the other tall
monuments to power and wealth.

David enjoyed its appearance, clean and functional like an aircraft's
wing, but he knew that the soaring freedom of its lines was deceptive.
It was a prison and fortress.

He swung off the freeway at an interchange and rode down to the
foreshore, glancing up at the towering bulk of the Morgan building again
before entering the ramp that led to the underground garages beneath it.

When he entered the executive apartments on the top floor, he passed
along the row of desks where the secretaries, hand-picked for their
looks as well as their skill with a typewriter, sat in a long row. Their
lovely faces opened into smiles like a garden of exotic blooms as David
greeted each of them.  Within the Morgan building he was treated with
the respect due the heir apparent.

Martha Goodrich, in her own office that guarded the inner sanctum,
looked up from her typewriter, severe and businesslike.

Good morning, Mister David.  Your uncle is waiting and I do think you
could have worn a suit You're looking good, Martha.  You've lost weight
and I like your hair like that.  It worked, as it always did.

Her expression softened.

Don't you try buttering me up, she warned him primly.  I'm not one of
your floozies.  Paul Morgan was at the picture window looking down over
the city spread below him like a map, but he turned quickly to greet
David.

Hello, Uncle Paul.  I'm sorry I didn't have time to change.  I thought
it best to come directly That's fine, David.  Paul Moron flicked his
eyes over David's floral shirt open to the navel, the wide tooled
leather belt, white slacks and open sandals.  On him they looked good,
Paul admitted reluctantly.  The boy wore even the most outlandish modern
clothes with a furious grace.

It's good to see you.  Paul smoothed the lapels of his own dark
conservatively-cut suit and looked up at his nephew.  Come in.  Sit
down, there, the chair by the fireplace.  As always, he found that David
standing emphasized his own lack of stature.  Paul was short and heavily
built in the shoulders, thick muscular neck and square thrusting head.
Like his daughter, his hair was coarse and wiry and his features
squashed and puglike.

All the Morgans were built that way.  It was the proper course of
things, and Davids exotic appearance was out side the natural order.  It
was from his mother's side, of course.  All that dark hair and flashing
eyes, and the temperament that went with it.

Well, David.  First off, I want to congratulate you on your final
results.  I was most gratified, Paul Morgan told him gravely, and he
could have added - I was also mightily relieved.  David Morgan's
scholastic career had been a tempestuous affair.  Pinnacles of
achievement followed immediately by depths of disgrace from which only
the Morgan name and wealth had rescued him.

There had been the business with the games master's young wife.  Paul
never did find out the truth of the matter, but had thought it
sufficient to smooth it over by donating a new organ to the school
chapel and arranging a teaching scholarship for the games master to a
foreign university.  Immediately thereafter David had won the coveted
Wessels prize for mathematics, and all was forgiven, until he decided to
test his house-master's new sports car, without that gentleman's
knowledge, and took it into a tight bend at ninety miles an hour.  The
car was unequal to the test, and David picked himself up out of the
wreckage and limped away with a nasty scratch on his calf.  It had taken
all Paul Morgan's weight to have the house-master agree not to cancel
David's appointment as head of house.  His prejudices had finally been
overcome by the replacement of his wrecked car with a more expensive
model, and the Morgan group had made a grant to rebuild the ablution
block of East House.

The boy was wild, Paul knew it well, but he knew also that he could tame
him.  Once he had done that he would have forged a razor-edged tool.  He
possessed all the attributes that Paul Morgan wanted in his successor.

The verve and confidence, the bright quick mind and adventurous spirit,
but above all he possessed the aggressive attitude, the urge to compete
that Paul defined as the killer instinct.

Thank you, Uncle Paul, David accepted his uncle's congratulations
warily.  They were silent, each assessing the other.  They had never
been easy in the other's company, they were too different in many ways,
and yet in others too much alike.  Always it seemed that their interests
were in conflict.

Paul Morgan moved across to the picture windows, so that the daylight
back-lit him it was an old trick of his to put the other person at a
disadvantage.

Not that we expected less of you, of course, he laughed, and David
smiled to acknowledge the fact that his uncle had come close to levity.

And now we must consider your future.  David was silent.

The choice open to you is wide, said Paul Morgan, and then went on
swiftly to narrow it.  Though I do feel business science and law at an
American University is what it should be.  With this obvious goal in
mind I have used my influence to have you enrolled in my old college,
Uncle Paul, I want to fly, said David softly, and Paul Morgan paused.
His expression changed fractionally.

We are making a career decision, my boy, not expressing preferences for
different types of recreation."No, sir.  I mean I want to fly, as a way
of life."Your life is here, within the Morgan group.  It is not
something in which you have freedom of action I don't agree with you,
sir.

Paul Morgan left the window and crossed to the fire place.  He selected
a cigar from the humidor on the mantel, and while he prepared it he
spoke softly, without looking at David.

Your father was a romantic, David.  He got it out of his system by
charging around the desert in a tank.  It seems you have inherited this
romanticism from him.  He made it sound like some disgusting disease. He
came back to where David sat.  Tell me what you propose.  'I have
enlisted in the air force, sir.  'You've done it?  You've signed?  'Yes,
sir.  'How long?  'Five years.  Short service commission.  Five years -
Paul Morgan whispered, well, David, I don't know what to say.  You know
that you are the last of the Morgans.  I have no son.  It will be sad to
see this vast enterprise without one of us at the helm.  I wonder what
your father would have thought of this 'That's hitting low, Uncle Paul.
I don't think so, David.  I think you are the one who is cheating.  Your
trust fund is a huge block of Morgan shares, and other assets given to
you, on the unstated understanding that you assume your duties and
responsibilities, if only he would bawl me out, thought David fiercely,
knowing that he was being stampeded as Barney had warned him.  If only
he would order me to do it so I could tell him to shove it.  But he knew
he was being manipulated by a man skilled in the art, a man whose whole
life was the manipulation of men and money, in whose hands a
seventeen-year-old boy was as soft as dough.

You see, David, you are born to it.  Anything else is cowardice, self
indulgence, the Morgan group reached out its tentacles, like some
grotesque flesh-eating plant, to suck him in and digest him, - we can
have your enlistment papers annulled.  It will be the matter of a single
phone call - Uncle Paul, David almost shouted, trying to shut out the
all-pervasive flow of words.  My father.  He did it.

He joined the army.  Yes, David.  But it was different at that time.

One of us had to go.  He was the younger, and, of course, there were
other personal considerations.  Your mother, he let the rest of it hang
for a moment then went on, and when it was over he came back and took
his rightful place here.  We miss him now, David.  No one else has been
able to fill the gap he left.  I have always hoped that you might be the
one But I don't want to.  David shook his head.  I don't want to spend
my life in here.  He gestured at the mammoth structure of glass and
concrete that surrounded them.  I don't want to spend each day poring
over piles of paper It's not like that, David.  It's exciting,
challenging, endlessly variable Uncle Paul.  David raised his voice
again.  What do you call a man who fills his belly with rich food, and
then goes on eating?  Come now, David The first edge of irritation
showed in Paul Morgan's voice, and he brushed the question aside
impatiently.  What do you call him?  David insisted.

I expect that you would call him a glutton Paul Morgan answered.

And what do you call a man with many millions who spends his life trying
to make more?  Paul Morgan froze into stillness.  He stared at his ward
for long seconds before he spoke.  You become insolent, he said at last.

No, sir.  I did not mean it so.  You are not the glutton - but I would
be.  Paul Morgan turned away and went to his desk.  He sat in the
high-backed leather chair and lit the cigar at last.  They were silent
again for a long time until at last Paul Morgan sighed.

You'll have to get it out of your system, the way your father did.  But
how I grudge you five wasted years.  'Not wasted, Uncle Paul.  I will
come out with a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering.
'I suppose we'll just have to be thankful for little things like that.
David went and stood beside his chair.

Thank you.  This is very important to me.  Five years, David.  After
that I want you, then he smiled slightly to signal a witticism, at least
they will make you cut your hair.

Four miles above the warm flesh-coloured earth, David Morgan rode the
high heavens like a young god.  The sun visor of his helmet was closed,
masking with its dark cyclops eye the rapt, almost mystic expression
with which he flew.  Five years had not dulled the edge of his appetite
for the sensation of power and isolation that flight in a Mirage
interceptor awoke in him.

The unfiltered sunlight blazed ferociously upon the metal of his craft,
clothing him in splendour, while far below the very clouds were
insignificant against the earth, scattered and flying like a sheep flock
before the wolf of the wind.

Today's flight was tempered by a melancholy, a sense of impending loss.
The morrow was the last day of his enlistment.  At noon his commission
expired and if Paul Morgan prevailed he would become Mister David, new
boy at Morgan Group.

He thrust the thought aside, and concentrated on the enjoyment of these
last precious minutes; but too soon the spell was broken.

Zulu Striker One, this is Range Control.  Report your position.  Range
Control, this is Zulu Striker One holding up range fifty miles.

Striker One, the range is clear.  Your target-markers are figures eight
and twelve.  Commence your run.  The horizon revolved abruptly across
the nose of the Mirage, as the wings came over and he went down under
power, falling from the heights, a controlled plunge, purposeful and
precise as the stoop of a falcon.

David's right hand moved swiftly across the weapon selector panel,
locking in the rocket circuit.

The earth flattened out ahead, immense and featureless, speckled with
low bush that bluffed past his wingtips as he let the Mirage sink lower.
At this height the awareness of speed was breathtaking, and as the first
marker came up ahead it seemed at the same instant to flash away below
the silvery nose.

Five, six, seven, the black numerals on their glaring white grounds
flickered by.

A touch of left rudder and stick, both adjustments made without
conscious effort, and ahead was the circular layout of the rocket range,
the concentric rings shrinking in size around the central mound, the
coke of flight jargon, which was the bull's-eye of the target.

David brought the deadly machine in fast and low, his mach meter
recording a speed that was barely subsonic.  He was running off the
direct line of track, judging his moment with frowning concentration.
When it came he pulled the Mirage's nose in to the pitch up and went
over on to the target with his gloved right finer curled about the
trigger lever.

The shrieking silver machine achieved her correct slightly nose-down
attitude for rocket launch at the precise instant of time that the white
blob of coke was centred in the diamond patterns of the reflector sight.

It was an evolution executed with subtle mastery of man diverse skills,
and David pressed against the y spring-loaded resistance of the trigger.
There was no change in the feel of the aircraft, and the hiss of the
rocket launch was almost lost beneath the howl of the great jet, but
from beneath his wings the brief smoke lines reached out ahead towards
the target, and in certainty of a fair strike David pushed his throttle
to the gate and waited for the rumbling ignition of his afterburners,
giving him power for the climb out of range of enemy flak.

What a way to go, he grinned to himself as he lay on his back with the
Mirage's nose pointed into the bright blue, and gravity pressing him
into the padding of his seat.

Hello, Striker One.  This is Range Control.  That was right on the nose.
Give the man a coke.  Nice shooting.

Sorry to lose you, Davey.  The break in hallowed range discipline
touched David.  He was going to miss them all of them.  He pressed the
transmit button on the maulded head of his joystick, and spoke into the
microphone of his helmet, From Striker One, thanks and farewell, David
said.  Over and out.  His ground crew were waiting for him also.

He shook hands with each of them, the awkward handshakes and rough jokes
masking the genuine affection that the years had built between them.
Then he left them and went down the vast metal-skinned cavern, redolent
with the smell of grease and oil along which the gleaming rows of
needle-nosed interceptors stood, even in repose their forward lines
giving them speed and thrust.

David paused to pat the cold metal of one of them, and the orderly found
him there peering up at the emblem of the Flying Cobra upon the towering
tail plane.

C.  O.  's compliments, sir, and will you report to him right away.
Colonel Rastus Naude was a dried-out stick of a man, with a wizened
monkey face, who wore his uniform and medal ribbons with a casually
distracted air.

He had flown Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain, Mustangs in Italy,
Spitfires and Messerschmitt log's in Palestine and Sabres in Korea, and
he was too old for his present command, but nobody could muster the
courage to tell him that, especially as he could out-fly and out-gun
most of the young bucks on the squadron.

So we are getting rid of you at last, Morgan, he greeted David.  Not
until after the mess party, sir.  Ja, Rastus nodded.  You've given me
enough hardship these last five years.  You owe me a bucket of whisky.
He gestured to the hard-backed chair beside his desk.  Sit down, David.

It was the first time he had used David's given name, and David placed
his flying helmet on the corner of the desk and lowered himself into the
chair, clumsy in the constricting grip of his G-suit.

Rastus took his time filling his pipe with the evil black Magaliesberg
shag and he studied the young man opposite him intently.  He recognized
the same qualities in him that Paul Morgan had prized, the aggressive
and competitive drive that gave him a unique value as an interceptor
pilot.

He lit the pipe at last, puffing thick rank clouds of blue smoke as he
slid a sheath of documents across the desk to David.

Read and sign, he said.  That's an order.  David glanced rapidly through
the papers, then he looked up and grinned.

You don't give in easily, sir, he admitted.

One document was a renewal of his short service contract for an
additional five years, the other was a warrant of promotion, from
captain to major.

We have spent a great deal of time and money in making you what you are.
You have been given an exceptional talent, and we have developed it
until now you are, I'll not mince words, one hell of a pilot I'm sorry,
sir, David told him sincerely.

Damn it, said Rastus angrily.  Why the hell did you have to be born a
Morgan.  All that money, they'll clip your wings, and chain you to a
desk.  It's not the money.  David denied it swiftly.  He felt his own
anger stir at the accusation.

Rastus nodded cynically.  Ja!  he said.  I hate the stuff also.  He
picked up the documents David had rejected, and grunted.  Not enough to
tempt you, hey?

Colonel, it's hard to explain.  I just feel that there is more to do,
something important that I have to find out about, and it's not here.  I
have to go look for it.  Rastus nodded heavily.  All right then, he
said.  I had a good try.  Now you can take your long-suffering
commanding officer down to the mess and spend some of the Morgan
millions on filling him up with whisky He stood up and clapped his
uniform cap at a rakish angle over his cropped grey head.  You and I
will get drunk together this night, for both of us are losing something&
I perhaps more than you.

It seemed that David had inherited his love of beautiful and powerful
machines from his father.  Clive Morgan had driven himself, his wife,
and his brand new Ferrari sports car into the side of a moving goods
train at an unlit level crossing.  The traffic police estimated that the
Ferrari was travelling at one hundred and fifty miles an hour at the
moment of impact.

Clive Morgan's provision for his eleven-year-old son was detailed and
elaborate.  The child became a ward of his uncle Paul Morgan, and his
inheritance was arranged in a series of trust funds.

On his majority he was given access to the first of the funds which
provided an income equivalent to that of, say, a highly successful
surgeon.  On that day the old green M.  G.  had given way to a
powder-blue Maserati, in true Morgan tradition.

On his twenty-third birthday, control of the sheep ranches in the
Karroo, the cattle ranch in South West Africa and Jabulani, the
sprawling game ranch in the Sabi-Sand block, passed to him, their
management handled smoothly by his trustees.

On his twenty-fifth birthday the number two fund interest would divert
to him, in addition to a large block of negotiable paper and title in
two massive urban holdings, office and supermarket complexes, and a
highrise housing project.

At age thirty the next fund opened for him, as large as the previous two
combined, and transfer to him for the first of five blocks of Morgan
stock would begin.

From then onwards, every five years until age fifty further funds
opened, further blocks of Morgan stock would be transferred.  It was a
numbing procession of wealth that stretched ahead of him, daunting in
its sheer magnitude; like a display of too much rich food, it seemed to
depress appetite.

David drove fast southwards, with the Michelin metallics hissing
savagely on the tarmac, and he thought about all that wealth, the great
golden cage, the insatiable maw of Morgan Group yawning open to swallow
him so that, like the cell of a jelly fish, he would become a part of
the whole, a prisoner of his own abundance.

The prospect appalled him, adding a hollow sensation in his belly to the
pulse of pain that beat steadily behind his eyes, testimony to the
foolhardiness of trying, to drink level with Colonel Rastus Naude.

He pushed the Maserati harder, seeking the twin opiates of power and
speed, finding comfort and escape in the rhythms and precision of
driving very fast, and the hours flew past as swiftly as the miles so it
was still daylight when he let himself into Mitzi's apartment on the
cliffs that overlooked Clifton beach and the clear green Atlantic.

Mitzi's apartment was chaos, that much had not changed.  She kept open
house for a string of transitory guests who drank her liquor, ate her
food and vied with each other as to who could create the most
spectacular shambles.

In the first bedroom that David tried there was a strange girl with dark
hair curled on the bed in boys pyjamas, sucking her thumb in sleep.

With the second room he was luckier, and he found it deserted, although
the bed was unmade and someone had left breakfast dishes smeared with
congealed egg upon the side table.

David slung his bag on the bed and fished out his bathing costume.  He
changed quickly and went out by the side stairs that spiralled down to
the beach and began to run, a trot at first, and then suddenly he
sprinted away, racing blindly as though from some terrible monster that
pursued him.  At the end of Fourth beach where the rocks began, he
plunged into the icy surf and swam out to the edge of the kelp at
Bakoven point, driving overarm through the water and the cold lanced him
to the bone, so that when he came out he was blue and shuddering.  But
the hunted feeling was gone and he warmed a little as he jogged back to
Mitzi's apartment.

He had to remove the forest of pantihose and feminine underwear that
festooned the bathroom before he could draw himself a bath.  He filled
it to the overflow, and as he settled into it the front door burst open
and Mitzi came in like the north wind.

Where are you, warrior?  She was banging the doors.  I saw your car in
the garage, so I know you're hereV In here, doll, he called, and she
stood in the doorway and they grinned at each other.  She had put on
weight again, he saw, straining the seam of her skirt, and her bosom was
bulky and amorphous under the scarlet sweater.  She had finally given up
her struggle with myopia and the metal-framed spectacles sat on the end
of her little nose, while her hair fuzzed out at unexpected angles.

You're beautiful, she cried, coming to kiss him and getting soap down
her sweater as she hugged him.

Drink or coffee?  she asked, and David winced at the thought of alcohol.

Coffee will be great, doll She brought it to him in a mug, then perched
on the toilet seat.

Tell all!  she commanded and while they chatted the pretty dark-haired
girl wandered in, still in her pyjamas and bug-eyed from sleep.

This is my coz, David.  Isn't he beautiful?  Mitzi introduced them.

And this is Liz.  The girl sat on the dirty linen basket in the corner
and fixed David with such an awed and penetrating gaze that Mitzi warned
her, Cool it, darling.  Even from here I can hear your ovaries bouncing
around like ping-pong balls.  But she was such a silent, ethereal little
thing that they soon forgot her and talked as if they were alone.  It
was Mitzi who said suddenly, without preliminaries, Papa is waiting for
you, licking his lips like an ivyleague ogre.  I ate with them Saturday
night, he must have brought your name up one zillion times.  It's going
to be strange to have you sitting up there on Top Floor, in a charcoal
suit, being bright at Monday morning conference - David stood up
suddenly in the bath, cascading suds and steaming water, and began
soaping his crotch vigorously .  They watched him with interest, the
dark-haired girl's eyes widening until they seemed to fill her face.

David sat down again, slopping water over the edge.

I'm not going!  he said, and there was a long heavy silence.

What you mean, you're not going?  Mitzi asked timorously.

Just that, said David.  I'm not going to Morgan Group.  'But you have
toVWhy?  asked David.

Well, I mean it's decided, you promised Daddy that when you finished
with the airforce.  No, David said, I made no promise.  He just took it.

When you said a moment ago, being bright at Monday morning conference, I
knew I couldn't do it.  I guess I've known all along.  What you going to
do, then?  Mitzi had recovered from the first shock, and her plump
cheeks were tinged pink with excitement.

I don't know.  I just know I am not going to be a caretaker for other
men's achievements.  Morgan Group isn't me.  It's something that Gramps,
and Dad and Uncle Paul made.  It's too big and cold - Mitzi was flushed,
bright-eyed, nodding her agreement, enchanted by this prospect of
rebellion and open defiance.

David was warming to it also.  I'll find my own road to go.  There's
more to it.  There has to be something more than this.  Yes, Mitzi
nodded so that she almost shook her spectacles from her nose.  You're
not like them.  You would shrivel and die up there on executive suite.

I've got to find it, Mitzi.  It's got to be out there somewhere.  David
came out of the bath, his body glowing dull red-brown from the scalding
water and steam rising from him in light tendrils.  He pulled on a Terry
robe as he talked and the two girls followed him through to the bedroom
and sat side by side on the edge of the bed, eagerly nodding their
encouragement as David Morgan made his formal declaration of
independence.  Mitzi spoiled it, however.

What are you going to tell Daddy?  she asked.  The question halted
David's flow of rhetoric, and he scratched the hair on his chest as he
considered it.  The girls waited attentively.

He's not going to let you get away again, Mitzi warned.  Not without a
stand-up, knock-down, drag-emout fight.  In this moment of crisis
David's courage deserted him.  I've told him once, I don't have to tell
him again.  'You just going to cut and run?  Mitzi asked.

I'm not running, David replied with frosty dignity as he picked up the
pigskin folder which held his thick sheaf of credit cards from the
bedside table.  I am merely reserving the right to determine my own
future.  He crossed to the telephone and began dialling.  Who are you
calling? 'The airline.  'Where are you heading?  'The same place as
their first flight out.  I'll cover for you, declared Mitzi loyally,
you're doing the right thing, warrior.  You bet I am, David agreed.  My
way and screw the rest of them.

Do you have time for that?  Mitzi giggled, and the dark-haired girl
spoke for the first time in a husky intense voice without once taking
her eyes off David.  I don't know about the rest of them, but may I be
first, please?  With the telephone receiver to his ear David glanced at
her, and realized with only mild surprise that she was in deadly
earnest.

David came out into the impersonal concrete and glass arrivals hall of
Schipol Airport, and he paused to gloat on his escape and to revel at
this sense of anonymity in the uncaring crowd.  There was a touch at his
elbow, and he turned to find a tall, smiling Dutchman quizzing him
through rimless spectacles.

Mr. David Morgan, I think?  and David gaped at him.

I am Frederick van Gent of Holland and Indonesian Stevedoring.  We have
the honour to act on behalf of Morgan Shipping Lines in Holland.  It is
a great pleasure to make your acquaintance.  God, no!  David whispered
wearily.

Please?  No.  I'm sorry.  It's nice to meet you.  David shook the hand
with resignation.

I have two urgent telex messages for you, Mr. Morgan.  Van Gent produced
them with a flourish.  I I have driven out from Amsterdam especially to
deliver same.  The first was from Mitzi who had sworn to cover for him.

Abject apologies your whereabouts extracted with rack and thumbscrew
stop be brave as a lion stop be -ferocious as an eagle Love Mitzi.

David said, Traitorous bitch!  and opened the second envelope.

Your doubts understood, your action condoned stop confident your good
sense will lead you eventually on to path of duty stop your place here
always open affectionately Paul Morgan.

David said, Crafty old bastard, and stuffed both messages into his
pocket.

Is there a reply?  Van Gent asked.

Thank you, no.  It was good of you to take this trouble.

No trouble, Mr. Morgan Can I help you in any way?

Is there anything you require?

Nothing, but thanks again.  They shook hands and Van Gent bowed and left
him.  David went to the Avis counter and the girl smiled brightly at
him.

Good evening, sir.

David slipped his Avis card across the desk.  I want something with a
little jump to it, please.

Let me see, we have a Mustang Mach 1?  1 She was pure blonde with a
cream and pink unlined face.

That will do admirably, David assured her, and as she began filling the
form in, she asked, Your first visit to Amsterdam, sir?

They tell me it's the city with the most action in Europe, is that
right?

If you know where to go, she murmured.

You should show me?  David asked and she looked up at him with
calculating eyes behind a neutral expression, made a decision and
resumed her writings.

Please sign here, sir.  Your account will be charged, then she dropped
her voice.  If you have any queries on this contract, you can contact me
at this number, after hours.  My name is Gilda.

Gilda shared a walk-up over the outer canal with three other girls who
showed no surprise, and made no objection when David carried his single
Samsonite case up the steep staircase.  However, the action that Gilda
provided was in a series of discotheques and coffee bars where lost
little people gathered to talk revolution and guru babble.  In two days
David discovered that pot tasted terrible and made him nauseous, and
that Gilda's mind was as bland and unmarked as her exterior.  He felt
the stirrings of uneasiness when he studied the others that had been
drawn to this city by the news that it was wide open, with the most
understanding police force in the world.  In them he saw symptoms of his
own restlessness, and he recognized them as fellow seekers.

Then the damp chill of the lowlands seemed to rise up out of the canals
like the spirits of the dead on doomsday, and when you have been born
under the sun of Africa the wintry effusions of the north are a pale
substitute.

Gilda showed no visible emotion when she said goodbye, and with the
heaters blasting hot air into the cab of the Mustang David sent it
booming southwards.  On the outskirts of Namur there was a girl standing
beside the road.  in the cold her legs were bare and brown, protruding
sweetly from the short faded blue denim pants she wore.  She tilted her
golden head and cocked a thumb.

David hit the stick down, and braked with the rubber squealing protest.
He reversed back to where she stood.

She had flat-planed slavic features and her hair was white blonde and
hung in a thick plait down her back.

He guessed her age at nineteen.

You speak English?  he asked through the window.

The cold was making her nipples stand out like marbles through the thin
fabric of her shirt.

No, she said.  But I speak American, will that do?  'Right on!  David
opened the passenger door, and she threw her pack and rolled sleeping
bag into the back seat.

I'm Philly, she said.

David.  You in show biz?  God, no, what makes you ask?

The car, the face, the clothes.  The car is hired, the clothes are
stolen and I'm wearing a mask.  Funny man, she said and curled up on the
seat like a kitten and went to sleep.

He stopped in a village where the forests of the Ardennes begin and
bought a long roll of crisp bread, a slab of smoked wild boar meat and a
bottle of Wet Chandon.

When he got back to the car Philly was awake.  You hungry?  he asked.
Sure.  She stretched and yawned.

He found a loggers, track going off into the forest and they followed it
to a clearing where a long golden shaft of sunlight penetrated the green
cathedral gloom.

Philly climbed out and looked around her.  Keen, Davey, keen!  she said.

David poured the champagne into paper cups and sliced the meat with a
penknife while Philly broke the bread into hunks.  They sat side by side
on a fallen log and ate.

It's so quiet and peaceful, not at all like a killing ground.  This is
where the Germans made their last big effort, did you know that?
Philly's mouth was full of bread and meat which didn't stop her reply. I
saw the movie, Henry Fonda, Robert Ryan, it was a complete crock.  All
that death and ugliness, we should do something beautiful in this place,
David said dreamily, and she swallowed the bread, took a sip of the
wine, before she stood up languidly and went to the Mustang.  She
fetched her sleeping bag and spread it on the soft bed of leaf mould.

Some things are for talking about, others are for doing, she told him.

For a while in Paris it looked as though it might be significant, as
though they might have something for each other of importance.  They
found a room with a shower in a clean and pleasant little pension near
the Gore St Lazare, and they walked through the streets all that day,
from Concorde to Etoile, then across to the Eiffel Tower and back to
Notre Dame.  They ate supper at a sidewalk cafe on the Boule Mich, but
half-way through the meal they reached an emotional dead end.

Suddenly they ran out of conversation, they sensed it at the same time,
each aware that they were strangers in all but the flesh and the
knowledge chilled them both.

Still they stayed together that night, even going through the mechanical
and empty motions of love, but in the morning, when David came out of
the shower, she sat up in the bed and said, You are splitting.  It was a
statement and not a question, and it needed no reply.

Are you all right for bread?  he asked, and she shook her head.  He
peeled off a pair of thousand-franc notes and put them on the side
table.

I'll pay the bill downstairs.  He picked up his bag.  Stay loose, he
said.

Paris was spoiled for him now, so he took the road south again towards
the sun for the sky was filled with swollen black cloud and it rained
before he passed the turn-off to Fontainebleau.  It rained as he
believed was only possible in the tropics, a solid deluge that flooded
the concrete of the highway and blurred his windscreen so that the
flogging of the wipers could not clear it swiftly enough for safe
vision.

David was alone and discomforted by his inability to sustain
communication with another human being.

Although the other traffic had moderated its pace in the rain, he drove
fast, feeling the drift and skate of his tyres on the slick surface.
This time the calming effect of speed was ineffective and when he ran
out of the rain south of Beaune it seemed that the wolf pack of
loneliness ran close behind him.

However, the first outpouring of sunshine lightened his mood, and then
far over the stone walls and rigid green lines of the vineyards he saw a
wind-sock floating like a soft white sausage from its pole.  He found
the exit from the highway half a mile farther on, and the sign Club
Aeronautique de Provence.  He followed it to a neat little airfield set
among the vineyards, and one of the aircraft on the hard-stand was a
Marchetti Acrobatic type F26o.  David climbed out of the Mustang and
stared at it like a drunkard contemplating his first whisky of the day.

The Frenchman in the club office looked like an unsuccessful undertaker,
and even when David showed him his logbook and sheafs of licences, he
resisted the temptation of hiring him the Marchetti.  David could take
his pick from the others, but the Marchetti was not for hire.  David
added a 500-franc note to the pile of documents, and it disappeared
miraculously into the Frenchman's pocket.  Still he would not let David
take the Marchetti solo, and he insisted on joining him in the
instructor's seat.

David executed a slow and stately four-point roll before they had
crossed the boundary fence.  It was an act of defiance, and he made the
stops crisp and exaggerated.  The Frenchman cried Sacr6 blue!  with
great feeling and froze in his seat, but he had the good sense not to
interfere with the controls.  David completed the manoeuvre and then
immediately rolled in the opposite direction with the wing-tip a mere
fifty feet above the tips of the vines.  The Frenchman relaxed visibly,
recognizing the masterly touch, and when David landed an hour later he
grinned mournfully at him.

Formidable!  he said, and shared his lunch with David, garlic polony,
bread and a bottle of rank red wine.  The good feeling of flight and the
aroma of garlic lasted David all the way to Madrid.

Just as though it had been arranged long before, as though his frantic
flight across half of Europe was a pre-knowledge that something of
importance awaited him in Madrid.

He reached the city in the evening, hurrying the last day's journey to
be in time for the first running of the bulls that season.  He had read
Hemingway and Conrad and much of the other romantic literature of the
bullring.  He wondered if there might not be something for him in this
way of life.  It read so well in the books the beauty, glamour and
excitement, the courage and trial and the final moment of truth.  He
wanted to evaluate it, to see it here in the great Plaza Des Torros, and
then, if it still intrigued him, go on to the festival at Pamplona later
in the season.

David checked in at the Gran Via with its elegance faded to mere
comfort, and the porter arranged tickets for the following day.  He was
tired from the long drive and he went to bed early, waking refreshed and
eager for the day.  He found his way out to the ring and parked the
Mustang amongst the tourist buses that already crowded the parking lot
so early in the season.

The exterior of the ring was a surprise, sinister as the temple of some
pagan and barbaric religion, unrelieved by the fluted tiers of balconies
and encrustations of ceramic tiles, but the interior was as he knew it
would be from film and photograph.  The sanded ring smooth and clean,
the flags against the cloud-flecked sky, the orchestra pouring out its
jerky, rousing refrain, and the excitement.

The excitement amongst the crowd was more intense than he had known at
prize fights or football internationals, they hummed and swarmed, rank
uponrank of white eager faces and the music goaded them on.

David was sitting amongst a group of young Australians who wore souvenir
sombreros and passed goat-skins of bad wine about, the girls squealing
and chattering like sparrows.  One of them picked on David, leaning
forward to tug his shoulder and offer him the wine-skin.  She was pretty
enough in a kittenish way and her eyes made it clear that the offer was
for more than cheap wine, but he refused both invitations brusquely and
went to fetch a can of beer from one of the vendors.  His chilly
experience with the girl in Paris was still too fresh.  When he returned
to his seat the Aussie girl eyed the beer he carried reproachfully and
then turned brightly and smiling to her companions.

The late arrivals were finding their seats now and the excitement was
escalating sharply.  Two of them climbed the stairs of the aisle towards
where David sat.

A striking young couple in their early twenties, but what first drew
David's attention was the good feeling of companionship and love that
glowed around them, like an aura setting them apart.

They climbed arm in arm, passed where David sat, and took seats a row
behind and across the aisle.  The girl was tall with long legs clad in
short black boots and dark pants over which she wore an apple-green
suede jacket that was not expensive but of good cut and taste.

In the sun her hair glittered like coal newly cut from the face and it
hung to her shoulders in a sleek soft fall.

Her face was broad and sun-browned, not beautiful for her mouth was too
big and her eyes too widely spaced, but those eyes were the colour of
wild honey, dark brown and flecked with gold.  Like her, her companion
was tall and straight, dark and strong-looking.  He guided her to her
seat with a brown muscled arm and David felt a sharp stab of anger and
envy for him.

Big cocky son of a gun, he thought.  They leaned their heads together
and spoke secretly, and David looked away, his own loneliness
accentuated by their closeness.

The parade of the toreadors began, and they came out with the sunlight
glittering on the sequins and embroidery of their suits, as though they
were the scales of some flamboyant reptile.  The orchestra blared, and
the keys to the bull pens were thrown down on to the sand.  The
toreadors capes were spread on the barrera below their favourites and
they retired from the ring.

In the pause that followed David glanced at the couple again.  He was
startled to find that they were both watching him and the girl was
discussing him.  She was leaning on her companion's shoulder, her lips
almost touching his ear as she spoke and David felt his stomach clench
under the impact of those honey golden eyes.  For an instant they stared
at each other and then the girl jerked away guiltily and dropped her
gaze, but her companion held David's eyes openly, smiling easily, and it
was David who looked away.

Below them in the ring the bull came out at full charge, head high, and
hooves skidding in the sand.

He was beautiful and black and glossy, muscle in the neck and shoulder
bunching as he swung his head from side to side and the crowd roared as
he spun and burst into a gallop, pursuing an elusive flutter of pink
across the ring.  They took him on a circuit, passing him smoothly from
cape to cape, letting him show off his bulk and high-stepping style, and
the perfect sickle of his horns with their creamy points, before they
brought in the horse.

The trumpets ushered in the horse, and they were a mockery, a brave
greeting from the wretched nag, with scrawny neck and starting coat, one
rheumy old eye blinkered so he could not see the fearsome creature he
was going to meet.

Clownish in his padding, seeming too frail to carry the big armoured man
on his back, they led him out and placed him in the path of the bull,
and here any semblance of beauty ended.

The bull went into him head down, sending the gawky animal reeling
against the barrera and the man leaned over the broad black back and
ripped and tore into the hump with the lance, worrying the flesh,
working in the steel with all his weight until the blood poured out in a
slick tide, black as crude oil, and dripped from the bull's legs into
the sand.

Raging at the agony of the steel the bull hooked and butted at the
protective pads that covered the horse's flanks.  They came up as
readily as a theatre curtain and the bull was into the scrawny roan
body, hacking with the terrible horns, and the horse screamed as its
belly split open and the purple and pink entrails spilled out and
dangled into the sand.

David was dry-mouthed with horror as around him the crowd blood-roared,
and the horse went down in a welter of equipment and its own guts.

They drew the bull away and flogged the fallen horse, twisting its tail
and prodding its testicles, forcing it to rise at last and stand
quivering and forlorn.  Then beating it to make it move again they led
it from the ring stumbling over its own entrails.

Then they went to work on the bull, slowly, torturously, reducing it
from a magnificent beast to a blundering hunk of sweating and bleeding
flesh, splattered with the creamy froth blown from its agonized lungs.

David wanted to scream at them to stop it, but sick to the stomach,
frozen by guilt for his own part in this obscene ritual, he sat through
it in silence until the bull stood in the centre of the ring, the sand
about him ploughed and riven by his dreadful struggles.  He stood with
his head down, muzzle almost touching the sand and the blood and froth
dripped from his nostrils and gaping mouth.  The hoarse sawing of his
breathing carried to David even above the crazed roaring of the crowd.

The bull's legs shuddered and he passed a dribble of loose liquid yellow
dung that fouled his back legs.  It seemed to David that this was the
final humiliation, and he found he was whispering aloud.

No!  No!  Stop it!  Please, stop it! Then the man in the glittering suit
and ballet shoes came to end it, and the point of the sword struck bone
and the blade arced then spun away in the sunlight, and the bull heaved
and threw thick droplets of blood, before he stood again.

They picked up the sword from the sand and gave it to the man and he
sighted over the quiescent, dying beast and again the thrust was
deflected by bone and David found that at last he had power in his
voice, and he screamed:Stop it!  You filthy bastards.  Twelve times the
man in the centre tried with the sword, and each time the sword flicked
out of his hand, and then at last the bull fell of its own accord, weak
from the slow loss of much blood and with its heart broken by the
torture and the striving.  It tried to rise, lunging weakly, but the
strength was not there and they killed it where it lay, with a dagger in
the back of the neck, and they dragged it out with a team of mules its
legs waggling ridiculously in the air and its blood leaving a long brown
smudge across the sand.

Stunned with the monstrous cruelty of it, David turned slowly to look at
the girl.  Her companion was leaning over her solicitously, whispering
to her, trying to comfort her.

She was shaking her head slowly, in a gesture of incomprehension, and
her honey-coloured eyes were blinded with weeping.  Her lips were apart,
quivering with grief, and her cheeks were awash, shiny with her tears.

Her companion helped her to her feet, and gently took her down the
steps, leading her away blindly like a new widow from her husband's
grave.

Around him the crowd was laughing and exhilarated, high on the blood and
the pain, and David felt himself rejected, cut off from them.  His heart
went out to the weeping girl, she of all of them was the only one who
seemed real to him.  He had seen enough also, and he knew he would never
get to Pamplona.  He stood up and followed the girl out of the ring, he
wanted to speak to her, to tell her that he shared her desolation, but
when he reached the parking lot they were already climbing into a
battered old Citroen CV.  loo, and although he broke into a run, the car
pulled away, blowing blue smoke and clattering like a lawn-mower, and
turned into the traffic heading east.

David watched it go with a sense of loss that effectively washed away
the good feeling of the last few days, but he saw the old Citroen again
two days later, when he had abandoned all idea of the Pamplona Festival
and headed south.  The Citroen looked even sicker than before, under a
layer of pale dust and with the canvas showing on a rear tyre.  The
suspension seemed to have sagged on the one side, giving it a rakishly
drunken aspect.

It was parked at a filling station on the outskirts of Zaragoza on the
road to Barcelona, and David pulled off the road and parked beyond the
gasoline pumps.  An attendant in greasy overalls was filling the tank of
the Citroen under the supervision of the muscular young man from the
bullring.  David looked quickly for the girl - but she was not in the
car.  Then he saw her.

She was in a cantina across the street, haggling with the elderly woman
behind the counter.  Her back was turned towards him, but David
recognized the mass of dark hair now piled on top of her head.  He
crossed the road quickly and went into the shop behind her.  He was not
certain what he was going to do, acting only on impulse.

The girl wore a short floral dress which left her back and shoulders
bare, and her feet were thrust into open sandals.  But in concession to
the ice in the air she wore a shawl over her shoulders.  Close to, her
skin had a plastic smoothness and elasticity, as though it had been
lightly oiled and polished, and down the back of her naked neck the hair
was fine and soft, growing in a whorl in the nape.

David moved closer to her as she completed her purchase of dried figs
and counted her change.  He smelt her, a light summery perfume that
seemed to come from her hair.  He resisted the temptation to press his
face into the dense pile of it.

She turned smiling and saw him standing close behind her.  She
recognized him instantly, his was not a face a girl would readily
forget.  She was startled.  The smile flickered out on her face and she
stood very still looking at him, her expression completely neutral, but
her lips slightly parted and her eyes soft and glowing golden.

This peculiar stillness of hers was a quality he would come to know so
well in the time ahead.  I saw you in Madrid, he said, at the bulls.

Yes, she nodded, her voice neither welcoming nor forbidding.

You were crying So were you.  I Her voice was low and clear, her
enunciation flawless, too perfect not to be foreign.

No, David denied it.

You were cryin& she insisted softly.  You were crying inside.  And he
inclined his head in agreement.

Suddenly she proffered the paper bag of figs.

Try one, she said and smiled.  It was a warm friendly smile.  He took
one of the fruits and bit into the sweet flesh as she moved towards the
door, somehow conveying an invitation for him to join her.  He walked
with her and they looked across the street at the Citroen.  The
attendant had finished filling the tank, and the girl's companion was
waiting for her, leaning against the bonnet of the weary old car.  He
was lighting a cigarette, but he looked up and saw them.  He evidently
recognized David also, and he straightened up quickly and flicked away
the burning match.

There was a soft whooshing sound and the heavy thump of concussion in
the air, as fire flashed low across the concrete from a puddle of
spilled gasoline.  In an instant the flames had closed over the rear of
the Citroen, and were drumming hungrily at the coachwork.

David left the girl and sprinted across the road.

Get it away from the pumps, you idiot, he shouted, and the driver
started out of frozen shock.

It was happy fifth of November, a spectacular pyrotechnic display, but
David got the handbrake off and the gearbox into neutral, and he and the
driver pushed it into an open parking area alongside the filling station
while a crowd materialized, seeming to appear out of the very earth, to
scream hysterical encouragement and suggestions while keeping at a
discreet distance.

They even managed to rescue the baggage from the rear seat before the
flames engulfed it entirely, and belatedly the petrol attendant arrived
with an enormous scarlet fire extinguisher.  To the delighted applause
of the crowd, he drenched the pathetic little vehicle in a great cloud
of foam, and the excitement was over.  The crowd drifted away, still
laughing and chattering and congratulating the amateur firefighter on
his virtuoso performance with the extinguisher, while the three of them
regarded the scorched and blackened shell of the Citroen ruefully.

I suppose it was a kindness really, the poor old thing was very tired,
the girl said at last.  It was like shooting a horse with a broken leg.
Are you insured?  David asked, and the girl's companion laughed.

You're joking, who would insure that?  I only paid a hundred U.  S.
dollars for her.  They assembled the small pile of rescued possessions,
and the girl spoke quickly to her companion in foreign, slightly
guttural language which touched a deep chord in David's memory.  He
understood what she was saying, so it was no surprise when she looked at
him.

We've got to meet somebody in Barcelona this evening.  It's important.
Let's go, said David.

They piled the luggage into the Mustang and the girl's companion folded
up his long legs and piled into the back seat.  His name was Joseph, but
David was advised by the girl to call him Joe.  She was Debra, and
surnames didn't seem important at that stage.  She sat in the seat
beside David, with her knees pressed together primly and her hands in
her lap.  With one sweeping glance, she assessed the Mustang and its
contents.  David watched her check the expensive luggage, the Nikon
camera and Zeiss binoculars in the glove compartment and the cashmere
jacket thrown over the seat.  Then she glanced sideways at him, seeming
to notice for the first time the raw silk shirt with the slim gold
Piaget under the cuff.

Blessed are the poor, she murmured, but still it must be pleasant to be
rich.

David enjoyed that.  He wanted her to be impressed, he wanted her to
make a few comparisons between himself and the big muscular buck in the
back seat.

Let's go to Barcelona, he laughed.

David drove quietly through the outskirts of the town, and Debra looked
over her shoulder at Joe.

Are you comfortable?  she asked in the guttural language she had used
before.

If he's not, he can run behind, David told her in the same language, and
she gawked at him a moment in surprise before she let out a small
exclamation of pleasure.  Hey!  You speak Hebrew!  Not very well, David
admitted. I've forgotten most of it, I and he had a vivid picture of
himself as a ten-year-old, wrestling unhappily with a strange and
mysterious language with back-to-front writing, an alphabet that was
squiggly tadpoles and in which most sounds were made in the back of the
throat, like gargling.

Are you Jewish?  she asked, turning in the seat to confront him.  She
was no longer smiling; the question was clearly of significance to her.

David shook his head.  No, he laughed at the notion.  I'm a
half-convinced non-practising monotheist, raised and reared in the
Protestant Christian tradition_a__ Then why did you learn Hebrew?  My
mother wanted it, David explained, and felt again the stab of an old
guilt.  She was killed when I was still a kid.  I just let it drop.  It
didn't seem important after she had gone.  Your mother, Debra insisted,
leaning towards him, she was Jewish?  Yeah.  Sure, David agreed.  But my
father was a Protestant.  There was all sorts of hell when Dad married
her.  Everyone was against it, but they went ahead and did it anyway.
Debra turned in the seat to Joe.  Did you hear that he's one of us. 'Oh,
come on!  David protested, still laughing.

Mazaltov, said Joe.  Come and see us in Jerusalem some time.  'You're
Israeli?  David asked, with new interest.

Sabras, both of us, said Debra, with a note of pride and deep
satisfaction.  We are only on holiday here.  'it must be an interesting
country, David hazarded.

Like Joe just said, why don't you come and find out some time, she
suggested off handedly.  You have the right of return Then she changed
the subject.  Is this the fastest this machine will go?  We have to be
in Barcelona by seven.

There was a relaxed feeling between them now, as though some invisible
barrier had been lowered, as though she had made some weighty judgement.
They were out of the city and ahead the open road wound down into the
valley of the Ebro towards the sea.

Kindly extinguish cigarettes and fasten your seat belts, David said, and
let the Mustang go.

She sat very still beside him with her hands folded in her lap and she
stared ahead when the bends leapt at them, and the straights streamed in
a soft blue blur beneath the body of the Mustang.  There was a small
rapturous smile on her mouth and the golden lights danced in her eyes,
and David was moved to know that speed affected her the way it did him.

He forgot everything else but the girl in the seat beside him and the
need to keep the mighty roaring machine on the ribbon of tarmac.

Once when they went twisting down into a dry dusty valley in a series of
tight curves and David snaked the Mustang down into it with his hands
darting from wheel to gear leaver, and his feet dancing heel and toe on
the foot pedals, she laughed aloud with the thrill of it.

They bought cheese and bread and a bottle of white wine at a village
cantina and ate lunch sitting on the parapet of a stone bridge while the
water swirled below them, milky with snow melt from the mountains.

David's thigh touched Debra's, as they sat side by side.  He could feel
the warmth and resilience of her flesh through the stuff of their
clothing and she made no move to pull away.  Her cheeks were flushed a
little brighter than seemed natural, even in the chill little wind that
nagged at them.

David was puzzled by Joe's attitude.  He seemed to be completely
oblivious of David's bird dogging his girl, and he was deriving a
childlike pleasure out of tossing pebbles at the trout in the waters
below them.  Suddenly David wished he would put up a better resistance,
it would make his conquest a lot more enjoyable, for conquest was what
David had decided on.

He leaned across Debra for another chunk of the white, tangy cheese and
he let his arm brush lightly against the tantalizing double bulge of her
bosom.  Joe seemed not to notice.

Come on, you big ape, David thought scornfully.  Fight for it.  Don't
just sit there.  He wanted to test himself against this buck.  He was
big, and strong, and David could tell from the way he moved and held
himself that he was well coordinated and self-assured.  His face was
chunky and half ugly, but he knew that some women liked them that way,
and he was not fooled by Joe's slow and lazy grin, the eyes were quick
and sharp.

You want to drive, Joe?  he asked suddenly, and the slow grin spread
like a puddle of spilled oil on Joe's face - but the eyes glittered with
anticipation.

Don't mind if I do, said Joe, and David regretted the gesture as he
found himself hunched in the narrow back seat.  For the first five
minutes Joe drove sedately, touching the brakes to test for grab and
pull, flicking through the gears to feel the travel and bite of the
stick, taking a burst of power through a bend to establish stability and
detect any tendency for the tail to break out.

Don't be scared of her, David told him, and Joe grunted with a little
frown of concentration creasing his broad forehead.  Then he nodded to
himself and his hands settled firmly, taking a fresh grip, and Debra
whooped as he changed down to get the revs peaking.

He slid the car through the first bend and David's right foot stabbed
instinctively at a non-existent brake pedal and he felt his breathing
jam in his throat.

When Joe parked them in the lot outside the airport at Barcelona and
switched off the engine, all of them were silent for a few seconds and
then David said softly, Son of a gun!

Then they were all laughing.  David felt a tinge of regret that he was
going to have to take the girl away from him, for he was beginning to
like him, despite himself, beginning to enjoy the slow deliberation of
his speech and movements that was so clearly a put on and finding
pleasure in the big slow smile that took so long to reach its full
bloom.  David had to harden his resolve.

They were an hour early for the plane they were meeting and they found a
table in the restaurant overlooking the runways.  David ordered an
earthenware jug of Sangria, and Debra sat next to Joe and put her hand
on his arm while she chatted, a gesture that tempered David's new-found
liking for him.

A private flight landed as the waiter brought the Sangria, and Joe
looked up.

One of the new executive Gulfstreams.  They tell me she is a little
beauty.  And he went on to list the aircraft's specifications in
technical language that Debra seemed to follow intelligently.

You know anything about aircraft?  David challenged him.  Some, admitted
Joe, but Debra took the question.

Joe is in the airforce, she said proudly, and David stared at them.

So is Debs, 'Joe laughed, and David switched his attention to her.

She's a lieutenant in signals.  .  'Only the reserve, Debra demurred,
but Joe is a flier.

A fighter pilot.  A flier, David repeated stupidly.  He should have
known from Joe's clear and steady gaze that was the peculiar mark of the
fighter pilot.  He should have known by the way he handled the Mustang
If he was an Israeli flier, then he would have flown a formidable number
of operations.  Hell, every time they took off, they were operational.
He felt a vast tide of respect rising within him.

What squadron are you on, Phantoms?  Phantoms!  Joe curled his lip.

That isn't flying.

That's operating a computer.  No, we really fly.  You ever heard of a
Mirage?  David blinked, and then nodded.  Yeah, said David, I've heard
of them.  'Well, I fly a Mirage.  David began to laugh, shaking his
head.

What's wrong?  Joe demanded, his smile fading.  What's funny about that?
I do too, said David.  I fly a Mirage.  It was no use trying to get hot
against this buck, he decided.  I've got over a thousand hours on
Mirages.  And it as Joe's turn to stare, then suddenly they were both
talking at once - Debra's head turning quickly from one to the other.

David ordered another jug of Sangria, but Joe would not let him pay.  He
repeated for the fiftieth time, Well, that beats all, and punched
David's shoulder.  How about that, Debs?  Half-way through the second
jug, David interrupted the talk which had been exclusively on aviation.

Who are we meeting, anyway?  We've driven across half of Spain and I
don't even know who the guy is.  'This guy is a girl, Joe laughed, and
Debra filled in.

Hannah, and she grinned at Joe, his fiancee.  She is a nursing sister at
Hadassah Hospital, and she could only get away for a week.  'Your
fiancee?  David whispered.

They are getting married in June.  Debra turned to Joe.  It's taken him
two years to make up his mind.

Joe chuckled with embarrassment, and Debra squeezed his arm.

Your fiancee?  asked David again.

Why do you keep saying that?  Debra demanded.

David pointed at Joe, and then at Debra.

What, he started, I mean, who, what the hell?  Debra realized suddenly
and gasped.  She covered her mouth with both hands, her eyes sparkling.
You mean - you thought -?  Oh, no, she giggled.  She pointed at Joe and
then at herself.  Is that what you thought?  David nodded.

He is my brother, Debra hooted.  Joe is my brother, you idiot!  Joseph
Israel Mordecai and Debra Ruth Mordecai, brother and sister Hannah was a
rangy girl with bright copper hair and freckles like gold sovereigns.
She was only an inch or two shorter than Joe but he lifted her as she
came through the customs gate, swung her off her feet and then engulfed
her in an enormous embrace.

It seemed completely natural that the four of them should stay together.
By a miracle of packing they got all their luggage and themselves into
the Mustang with Hannah perched on Joe's lap in the rear.

We've got a week, said Debra.  A whole week!  What are we going to do
with it?

They agreed that Torremolinos was out.  It was far south, and since
Michener had written The Drifters, it had become a hangout for all the
bums and freaks.

I was talking to someone on the plane.  There is a place called Colera
up the coast.  Near the border.  They reached it in the middle of the
next morning and it was still so early in the season that they had no
trouble finding pleasant rooms at a small hotel off the winding main
street.  The girls shared, but David insisted on a room of his own.  He
had certain plans for Debra that made privacy desirable.

Debra's bikini was blue and brief, hardly sufficient to restrain a bosom
that was more exuberant than David had guessed.  Her skin was satiny and
tanned to a deep mahogany, although a strip of startling white peeped
over the back of her costume when she stooped to pick up her towel.  She
was long in the waist, and leg, and a strong swimmer, pacing David
steadily through the cool blue water when they set out for a rocky islet
half a mile off shore.

They had the tiny island to themselves and they found a pitch of flat
smooth rock out of the wind and full in the sun.  They lay side by side
with their fingers entwined and the salt water had sleeked Debra's hair
to her shoulders, like the coat of an otter.

They lay in the sun and they talked away the afternoon.  There was so
much they had to learn about each other.

Her father had been one of the youngest colonels in the American
Airforce during World War II, but afterwards he had gone on to Israel.
He had been there ever since, and was now a Major-General.  They lived
in a house in an old part of Jerusalem which was five hundred years old,
but was a lot of fun.

She was a senior lecturer in English at the Hebrew University in
Jerusalem and, this shyly as though.  it were a rather special secret,
she wanted to write.  A small volume of her poetry had already been
published.

That impressed David, and he came up on one elbow and looked at her with
new respect, and a twinge of envy, for someone who saw the way ahead
clearly.

She lay with her eyes closed against the sun, and droplets of water
sparkling like gems on her thick dark eyelashes.  She wasn't beautiful,
he decided carefully, but very handsome and very, very sexy.  He was
going to have her, of course.  There was no doubt in David's mind about
this, but there seemed little urgency in it now.  He was enjoying
listening to her talk, she had a quaint way of expressing herself, once
she was in full flight, and her accent was strangely neutral, although
there were faint echoes of her American background now he knew to look
for them.  She told him that the poetry was merely a beginning.  She was
going to write a novel about being young and living in Israel.  She had
the outline worked out, and it seemed like a pretty interesting story to
David.  Then she started to talk about her land and the people who lived
in it.  David felt something move within him as he listened, a
nostalgia, a deep race memory.  Again his envy stirred.  She was so
certain of where she was from and where she was going - she knew where
she belonged, and what her destiny was, and this made her strong. Beside
her he felt suddenly insignificant and without purpose.

sunlight and looked up at him.

h?  He shook his head but did not answer her smile, and she became
solemn also.

She studied his face carefully, with minute attention.

The sun had dried his hair and fluffed it out, and it was soft and fine
and very dark.  The bone of his cheek and jaw was sculptured and finely
balanced, the eyes very clear and slightly Asiatic in cast, the lips
full and firm, and the nose delicately fluted with wide nostrils and a
straight graceful line.

She reached up and touched his cheek.

You are very beautiful, David.  You are the most beautiful human being I
have ever seen.  He did not move, and she ran the finger down his neck
on to his chest, twirling it slowly in the dark body hair.

Slowly he leaned forward and placed his mouth over hers.  Her lips were
warm and soft and tasted of sea salt.

Her arms came up around the back of his head and folded around him. They
kissed until he reached behind her and unfastened the clasp of her
costume between the smooth brown shoulder blades.  She stiffened
immediately and tried to pull away from him.

David held her gently but firmly, murmuring little soothing noises as he
kissed her again.  Slowly she relaxed and he went on gentling her until
her hands went to the back of his neck again, and she sighed and
shuddered.

His hands were skilled and expert, masterful enough to prevent
rebellion, not rough enough to panic her.  He pushed up the thin
material of her costume top and was surprised and enchanted with the
firm rubbery weight of her breasts and the big dusky rose-brown nipples
which were pebble hard to his touch.

It was shocking, completely foreign to his experience, for David was not
accustomed to check or denial, but Debra placed her hands on his
shoulders and shoved him with such force that he lost his balance and
slid down the rock, grazing his elbow and ending in a heap at the
water's edge.

He scrambled angrily to his feet as Debra came up with a fluid explosive
movement, fastening her costume as she did so.  A single bound of her
long brown legs carried her to the edge of the rocks and she dived
outwards, hitting the water flat and surfacing to call back at him.

I'll race you to the beach David would not accept the challenge and
followed her at his own dignified pace.  When he emerged unsmilingly
from the low surf, she studied his face a moment and then grinned.

When you sulk you look about ten years old, she told him, which was no
great exercise of tact and David stalked back to his room.

He was still being extremely dignified and aloof that evening when they
discovered a discotheque named2ooi A.  D.  run by a couple of English
boys down on the sea-front.  They crowded round a table at which there
were already two B.  E.  A.  hostesses and a couple of raggedy-looking
beards.  The music was loud enough and the rhythm hard enough to jar the
spine and loosen the bowels and when the two hostesses gazed at David
with almost religious awe Debra forsook her attitude of cool amusement
and suggested to David that they dance.

Mollified by this little feminine by-play, David dropped his
impersonation of the Ice King.

They moved well together, sharing the gut rhythms of the harsh music,
executing the primeval movements that reeked of Africa with a grace that
drew the attention of the other dancers.

When the music changed Debra came to him and lay her body against his.
David felt some force flowing from her that seemed to charge every nerve
of his body, and he knew that no relationship he had with this woman
would ever run calmly.  It was too deeply felt for that, too volatile
and triggered for momentary explosion.

When the record ended they left Joe and Hannah huddled over a carafe of
red wine and they went out into the silent street and down to the beach.

There was a moon in the sky that lit the dark cliffs crowding in above
the beach, and reflected off the sea in multiple yellow images.  The low
surf hissed and coughed on the pebble beach and they took off their
shoes and walked along it, letting the water wash around their ankles.

In an angle of the cliff, they found a hidden place amongst the rocks
and they stopped to kiss again, and David mistakenly took her new soft
mood as an invitation to continue from where he had left off that
afternoon.

Debra pulled away again, but this time with determination and said
angrily, Damn you!  Don't you ever learn?  I don't want to do that.  Do
we have to go through this every time we are alone?

, 'What's the matter?  David was immediately stung by her tone, and
furious with this fresh check.  This is the twentieth century, darling.
The simpering virgin is out of style this season, hadn't you heard?  ,
And spoilt little boys should grow up before they come out on their own,
she flashed back at him.

Thanks!  he snarled.  I don't have to stay around taking insults from
any professional virgin.  Well, why don't you move out then?  she
challenged him.

Hey, that's a great idea!  He turned his back on her and walked away up
the beach.  She had not expected that, and she started to run after him,
but her pride checked her.  She stopped and leaned against the rock.

He shouldn't have rushed me, she thought miserably.

I want him, I want him very much, but he will be the first since Dudu.
If he will just give me time it will be all right, but he mustn't rush
me.  If he could only go at my speed, help me to do it right.

It is funny, she thought, how little I remember about Dudu now.  It's
only three years, but his memory is fading so swiftly, I wonder if I
really did love him.  Even his face is hazy in my mind, while I know
every detail of David's, every plane and line of it.

Perhaps I should go after him and tell him about Dudu, and ask him to be
patient and to help me a little.

Perhaps I should do that, she thought, but she did not and slowly she
walked up the beach, through the silent town to the hotel.

Hannah's bed across the room was empty.  She would be with Joe, lying
with him, loving with him, I should be with David also, she thought.
Dudu was dead, and I'm alive, and I want David and I should be with him
but she undressed slowly and climbed into the bed and lay without
sleeping.

David stood in the doorway of 2001 A.  D.  and peered through the
weirdly flashing lights and the smog, the warm palpable emanation from a
hundred straining bodies.  The B.  E.  A.  hostesses were still at the
table, but Joe and Hannah had gone.

David made his way through the dancers.  The one hostess was tall and
blonde, with high English colour and china-doll eyes.  She looked up and
saw David, glanced around for Debra, made sure she was missing before
she smiled.

They danced one cut of the record without touching each other and then
David leaned close to her and placed both hands on her hips.  She
strained towards him with her lips parting.

Have you got a room?  he asked, and she nodded, running the tip of her
tongue lewdly around her lips.

Let's go, said David.

It was light when David got back to his own room.

He shaved and packed his ha& surprised at the strength of his residual
anger.  He lugged his bag down to the proprietor's office and paid his
bill with his Diners Club card.

Debra came out of the breakfast room with Joe and Hannah.  They were all
dressed for the beach with Terry robes over their bathing gear, and they
were gay and laughing, until they saw David.

Hey!  Joe challenged him.  Where are you going?

I've had enough of Spain, David told them.  I'm taking some good advice,
and I'm moving -out, and he felt a flare of savage triumph as he saw the
quick shadow of pain in Debra's eyes.  Both Joe and Hannah glanced at
her, and quickly she controlled the quiver of her lips.

She smiled then, a little too brightly and stepped forward, holding out
her hand.

Thank you for all your help, David.  I'm sorry you have to go.  It was
fun.  Then her voice dropped slightly and there was a tiny quiver in it.
I hope you find what you are looking for.  Good luck.  She turned
quickly and hurried away to her room.

Hannah's expression was steely, and she gave David a curt nod before
following Debra.  So long, Joe.  'I'll carry your bag.

Don't bother, David tried to stop him.

No trouble.  Joe took it out of his hand and carried it out to the
Mustang.  He dumped it on the rear seat.

I'll ride up to the top of the hills with you and walk back.  He climbed
into the passenger seat and settled comfortably.  I need the exercise.
David drove swiftly, and they were silent as Joe deliberately lit a
cigarette and flicked the match out the window.

I don't know what went wrong, Davey, but I can guess.

David didn't reply, he concentrated on the road.

She's had a bad time.  These last few days she has been different.
Happy, I guess, and I thought it was going to work out.

Still David was silent, not giving him any help.  Why didn't the big
bonehead mind his own business.

She's a pretty special sort of person, Davey, not because she's my
sister.  She really is, and I think you should know about her, just so
you don't think too badly about her.  They had reached the top of the
hills above the town and the bay.  David pulled on to the verge but kept
the engine running.  He looked down on the brilliant blue of the sea,
where it met the cliffs and the pine-covered headlands.

She was going to be married, said Joe softly.  He was a nice guy, older
than she was, they worked together at the University.  He was a tank
driver in the reserve and he took a hit in the Sinai and burned with his
tank David turned and looked at him, his expression softening a little.

She took it badly Joe went on doggedly.  These last few days were the
first time I've seen her truly happy and relaxed.  He shrugged and
grinned like a big St. Bernard dog.  Sorry to give you the family
history, Davey.  just thought it might help.  He held out a huge brown
hand.  Come and see us.  It's your country also, you know.  I'd like to
show it to you.

David took the hand.  I might do that, he said.  Shalom.  Shalom, Joe.

Good luck.  Joe climbed out of the car and when David pulled away he
watched him standing on the side of the road with his hands on his hips.
He waved and the first bend in the road hid him.

There was a school for aspiring Formu