Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Time of the Temptress 4


Eve woke suddenly and lay absorbingthe strangeness of it all. The fire had died, for no longer didthose tendrils of acrid smoke drift upwards. She turned her headvery carefully and dragged the mosquito netting away from herface . . . the Major lay deeply asleep, his black hair tousled,his chin and jaws dark with his beard. Eve had a feeling he hadkept awake most of the night, but now as dawn crept into the skyhe allowed himself the luxury of an hour’s sleep.
     She didn’t intend to wake him, andwith extreme care she rose to her feet and disentangled herselffrom the rest of the net, bundling it and setting it to one side. Then she turned to the small pile of articles she had confiscatedfrom that circular suitcase which the pilot had obligingly leftbehind. A bar of soap, a sponge and a towel were gathered up,and with a final glance at that sleeping figure to make sure hewasn’t foxing her, Eve made for the tree-shadowed path that ledin the direction of the creek.
     If there was one thing she justhad to have it was a plunge into water and a good lathering ofsoap to help make her feel fresh and human again.
     This was like playing truant, asif she were a schoolgirl again, and Eve smiled to herself andreckoned that if she were quick she could be bathed and dressedand back at their camp site before the Major awoke and [59-60]could alarm her with reasons why she shouldn’t bathe in the creek.
     She breathed the cool morning airand felt the spell of a slumbrous quiet that would last untilthe sun began to spread its flame across the treetops. She heardrustlings and the occasional bird call, and gazed in wonder atthe yards of moss hanging down from the forks of trees, alongwith ribbons of fern. Several enormous webs glinted with thethick dew that had made their recent occupants retreat into theunderbrush. Eve firmly closed he mind to anything unpleasant,and a few minutes later had emerged on to the banks of the creek. A mist lay over the peat-coloured water, and there was a clusterof blue lotus at the edge where she stood, their petals closedinto a big bud, waiting for the sun to open them on the big greenleaves.
     Eve hung her towel on a lower branchof a massive, mottled tree whose roots stretched out into thewater, swiftly removed her clothes and hung them with equal careon another of the branches. Then, nude as Phryne, with soap andsponge clutched in her hands, she ran out gleefully into the waterand gave herself up to the bliss of bathing and splashing about,lost to everything but the need to feel clean and fresh.
     Above the treetops the rising sunhad become a ball of flame, and a flock of green birds rose inunison against the red-gold sky. The mud banks, however, hadbegun to give off a rank smell which Eve ignored, and from thejungle came the chattering and scolding of monkeys in the highcrowns of the trees as they swung back and forth on the long chainsof creepers thick as an arm.
     She’d enjoy a few more minutes inthe water, which [60-61] despite its leaf-dyed colour had madeher feel tingling clean, then she would have to dress and returnto the camp site. Suddenly she felt the nerves knot in her stomachas she spotted a movement beyond the bank where she had left herclothes . . . a figure swung out from among the trees and withlong hairy arms grabbed at her belongings and carried them off.
     Clad only in the wet sheen of herwhite skin and auburn hair, Eve realised with dismay that oneof the more daring monkeys had decided to find out if her garmentswere edible . . . oh, lord, now she was in a naked predicament,with only a bar of soap and a sponge to keep her covered . . .unless like that other Eve she got hold of a large leaf to coverherself!
     With every passing second the junglewas coming noisily awake, and Eve realised that Wade O’Mara wouldbe waking up as well, and he’d be furious when he found she hadslipped away from his side to come and enjoy a forbidden bathein the creek.
     Furious he was . . . she could seethat the instant he strode from among the trees on to the mudbank. “You damn little idiot,” he yelled across thewater. “You’ll come out of there without delay, or I’llcome in and drag you out!”
     When she didn’t move, his voicecracked like a whip. “You crazy little fool, Eve! Can’tyou see this creek mud is crawling with crabs now that the sunis up?”
     It was . . . the rotted vegetationwas moving and shifting as if alive and Eve felt her stomach turnover.
     “I-I can’t come out,”she half-choked. “I have nothing on!”
     “For heaven’s sake! I’ve seenunclad females before [61-62] today, and I’m old enough to beyour father! Come on out before the mud crabs make a meal ofyou!”
     “M-my clothes,” she whimpered. “A monkey took them–“
     “That figures,” he saidgrimly, and as she watched he unbuttoned his khaki shirt and removedit, revealing a torso the colour of copper. He waded out intothe water, holding open the shirt so she could dive into it.
     “Come on, you little jackass!”he ordered.
     Eve had no option but to obey him,and with her skin aflame with mortification she dashed towardshim, flinging up water as he gathered her into the shirt and swungher up into his arms, so her bare white legs were out of reachof that mass of scurrying black crabs, clicking and snapping roundhis booted feet. He strode back with her to their camp site,along the pathway droning with flies. Eve’s fingers clencheda warm coppery shoulder and never had she felt so helpless andvulnerable, all but bare in the steely arms of this angry man.
     “You damn little jackass!”he said again.
     “You’re always so complimentary,”she mumbled.
     “You deserve a good hidingwhere it would sting . . . so you were going to emerge from thecreek like Aphrodite of the foam, eh, glowingly clean and a realsweet meal for the crabs and the gnats?”
     “I-I didn’t expect a darnedmonkey to run off with my things,” she said. “Whateverwill I do?”
     “You’ll trek through the junglewrapped in a blanket,” he replied, “if I fail to findyour shirt and trousers. Hasty little female, aren’t you? Itold you last night to stay away from the creek, but you had towash yourself and smell like a lily. As if I care!”
     [62-63] “Well, I care,”she rejoined. “I’m not one of your soldiers.”
     “No,” he drawled, andshe could feel him looking down at her, and again she felt anacute helplessness in his arms, with the dark hair curling downto his wrists, embedding the thick leather strap of his watch. There was such assurance to his strength, a careless male power,a saddle-tanning to his skin that seemed to make him imperviousto what would bite her.
     “We’re quite the knight andthe rescued maiden, aren’t we?” he jeered. “Lady, youjust don’t go bathing in a jungle creek as if you were takinga dip in the family pool, and from now on you’ll do nothing excepton my say-so. Do you hear me?”
     “Your voice would carry acrossa parade ground,” she retorted. “I bet the men underyour command just love you!”
     “Love?” He gave an abruptlaugh that startled a pair of sunbirds from their path. “Inthis inhuman race to survive, honey, that commodity is now invery short supply. Human beings have become like the bird-eatingspiders in this jungle.”
     “Ugh!” Eve shudderedin his whipcord arms, lashed around her as he ducked beneath acurtain of ragged mosses and they entered the clearing where theyhad spent the night. “Of course, one occasionally sees awhite canary flying in the face of danger.”
     “The Beauty and the Beast syndrome,”she murmured.
     “Exactly.” He set herdown on the khaki blanket. “It’s a fact of life.”
     Eve pushed a damp strand of hairfrom her forehead and allowed herself a brief look at him. Didhe understand that in her hunger to be clean the creek [63-64]had taken on the look of a laguna in the dawn mist, hiding thethings that slept in the mud? His eyes flicked the auburn dampnessof her hair and fell to the tremulous redness of her mouth.
     “I know darn well I can’t treatyou like a raw recruit,” he said, “but I’m afraid you’regoing to have to smarm yourself in gnat repellent from your earsto your heels, so you’d better start now while I make a fire andcook us up some coffee and sausages.”
     “Sausages?” she exclaimed,and became aware of another sort of hunger.
     “I found a tin of them at theairfield bungalow, so we’ll eat a good breakfast before settingoff for Tanga.”
     “What about my clothes, Major?” Eve bit her lip as the grey eyes scanned her slim figure in thekhaki shirt that came to her thighs. His mouth quirked into thatone-sided smile. “At the moment you look cute in my shirt,lady, but I’d dread to imagine what you’d look like after severalhours of slogging through jungle bamboo and flying bitchos. We’ll have our breakfast, then I’ll make a search for your things–dammit, Eve, we’ll lose about an hour of our trek because of your femaleirresponsibility!”
     “I-I’m sorry, Major.”
     “That’s all very well. Youwomen hasten in where angels fear to fly, and then get all dewy-eyedwith regret. You do realise that we’re on the run from a packof two-legged animals who would have a glorious time passing youaround like candy?”
     “You said–you promised–” She glanced significantly at his gun.
     “Sure, but you’ll recall, youlittle jackass, that I was taking a snooze when you sneaked offand took a bath in the creek. What would you have done had itnot [64-65] been a monkey who grabbed your clothes?”
     “Screamed,” she said,with a shudder.
     “Hoping I’d hear you, no doubt,with a jungle full of animals waking up for their breakfast. Well, come on, get yourself well anointed with insect repellent–anddo put on that robe before I start getting ideas!”
     “At this time of the morning,Major?” But she turned away instantly in search of the plaidrobe, feeling the heat come into her skin. As she grabbed therobe and put it on she heard that short growl of a laugh issuefrom Wade O’Mara’s throat.
     “What’s the time of day gotto do with it?” he asked, as he went in search of wood thatwhen stripped of its bark would be dry enough underneath to ignitewithout too much trouble.
     After he had got the fire goingand placed his smoke-blackened kettle on the stones, he openedthe can of sausages, which to the delight of both of them werebedded in baked beans in a thick sauce. “Manna from heaven,”he growled, and handing Eve a plate he prepared to tip half thecontents of the can on to it.
     “Cold?” she exclaimed.
     “Can’t be helped,” hesaid. “I haven’t a pan to heat them.”
     “Can’t you stand the can inthe fire?” she asked. “It would be nice to have a warmbreakfast.”
     “No doubt, if you don’t mindit smoky?”
     “A little smoke won’t hurtme.”
     “Not quite the hothouse orchidI took you for, eh?” He replaced the lid of the sausagecan, dug a couple of holes in it with his opener and carefullysettled it in the fire. He flicked a look over her and she tiltedher chin, standing there in a man’s robe trailing round her feet,her hair combed back damply from her temples. [65-66] “Youlook little more than a kid at the moment.”
     “I expect I do,” she said,but inwardly she didn’t feel like one. She was still wearinghis shirt under the robe, and he was standing there palming coffeeinto the kettle, his torso tanned to the toughness of saddle leather,except for a puckered scar about six inches long in the regionof his heart. She wanted to ask about it and decided that ithad something to do with why he had been discharged from the regulararmy.
     He saw her eyes upon his chest andhis mouth gave a sardonic twist. “A bit of metal from abomb,” he informed her. “It got bedded in me and spoiledmy beauty. “You’re flinching, Eve, so it’s just as wellyou can’t see the one on the back of my left thigh.”
     “And yet you enjoy being asoldier and can’t stay away from a fight,” she said, andshe was flinching at the thought of the white-hot metal ploughingits way into his body. He was tough, but he was still flesh andblood, and she couldn’t understand why his wife had never insistedthat he put away his uniform for good. One day . . .
     He nodded, reading her thoughtsin her eyes. “Sure, one day my luck will run out, but we’veall got to go and I don’t fancy growing old and weary and dependent. I’ve always looked out for myself and soldiering becomes a wayof life and I’m too steeped in it–I guess like the leopard Ican’t change my spots.”
     “What about your wife, doesn’tshe count?” Eve asked, and it worried her that it was suchan effort to mention his wife in a casual tone of voice. “Itcan’t be much of a life for her, surely?”
     “It never was,” he saidbriefly. “Do you like your coffee sweet?”
     [66-67] He dropped lumpy brownsugar in the big mug, poured the strong-looking coffee and handedit to her. “There was one other reason why I didn’t wantyou to go bathing in the creek,” he said. “I’m nota spoilsport and I appreciate that a girl likes to be clean, butthere could have been a leopard about and you wouldn’t have seenhim. Those lovely lithe creatures can almost flatten themselvesto the ground and be invisible in the tall ferns, and if one ofthem leapt on you, you wouldn’t stand any chance of getting away.”
     “You’re really laying the dangerson the line for me, aren’t you, Major?” She sipped her coffeeand gave him a challenging look. “Do you reckon our chancesof getting to Tanga are fairly good?”
     “If you obey orders and don’ttreat the jungle as if it were a safari park, with big white huntersstrolling about.”
     Eve couldn’t suppress a smile asshe handed him the lion’s share of the coffee, which was abominablystrong. “You have the edge of a panga to your tongue,Major O’Mara.”
     “Do I scare you?” he jeered,taking a deep swig of the coffee. “You surely guessed whatyou’d be in for when you decided to take this trek. I could havegot you on that plane, you know. All I needed to do was slingthat fat oaf out of his cushy seat.”
     “Would you have preferred doingthis trek with him?” she asked, looking demure.
     Wade gave his lopsided smile. “Atleast he wouldn’t wander off in search of a bath, and lose hispants in the process.”
     “Don’t be mean.” Eveturned to the fire. “Shall I dish up the sausage and beans?”
     “No, I’d better do it. Youmight burn your dainty [67-68] little fingers and drop the lotin the flames.”
     “You always have to be thebwana, don’t you?”
     “I have to be practical, ndito,and there’s a difference. We haven’t much food to see us throughand it would be a pity to lose the dogs and beans.” As hespoke he whipped the can on to an enamel plate with the bladeof his knife, and once again Eve had to admit to herself thathe was very deft with his hard brown hands.
     They ate hungrily and quickly, usingbiscuits to mop up the beans and sauce. The food was smoky, butsomehow that added to the taste and Eve had never enjoyed a mealso much.
     “I’ll tidy up,” she said,when they had finished eating, anxious for him to go and lookfor her clothes.
     “Right.” He stood up,flexing his arms. “Leave the fire, lady. I’ll see to thatwhen I get back–that monkey swiped the garments from the creekbank, eh?”
     “From the limb of one of thosebig mottled trees, just where the mud crabs appeared, then itdarted back into the bush.”
     “Well, keep your fingers crossed.” He loped off among the trees, and Eve set about tidying theircamp site, wiping off the plates with handfuls of grass, foldingthe blanket after giving it a good shake and rolling it as tightas possible. All the while she was conscious of the jungle soundsall around her, and the tunnels of trees where anything mightcreep and be upon her before she could look around.
     She tensed as she caught the rustlingof leaves, but it was only one of the gorgeous sunbirds flutteringout on bright wings, pausing on a thick branch as if to [68-69]watch her; and then it flew off again, its wings catching thesun that was now a flame of pure gold above the roof of toweringtrees.
     Wade was at the edge of the clearingbefore she heard him, and then he called her name so he wouldn’talarm her. Relief caught at her heart that he was back, and witha quizzical look on his face he held out a couple of garmentsfor her inspection. Her shirt, ripped and dirty, and her slackswith a piece of material hanging loose from the backside. “Noluck with the lingerie,” he said. “I only hope yourbriefs aren’t lying on a bush somewhere, a sure indication thata woman has passed this way.”
     “I took a spare pair from thatwoman’s suitcase, so I can manage.” Eve ruefully examinedthe torn shirt. “Lord, this is a mess!”
     “I expect a pair of monkeyswere wrangling over it, until they got bored and went off in searchof fresh mischief. I can’t spare the time for any mending, Eve,so you’ll have to make do–” He broke into a grin at theway she was regarding the backside of her slacks. “We’llhave to pin them, and then all you’ll need is a dirty face tolook like Judy Garland singing that tramp song with Astaire. Did you ever see that movie?”
     “I can’t somehow picture youas a film fan,” she said, watching him open a waterproofpouch in which he had cotton and needles, tablets and matches,a couple of candles, a tin of germicide plasters, and severallarge safety-pins attached to a piece of string.
     “I was a member of the GreenJackets, not part of a holy order,” he handed her three ofthe safety pins. “I went to the cinema when I had a coupleof hours to spare, and contrary to popular belief it’s a busylife in [69-70] the army, especially if you belong to a regimentfamous for its drilling and its marksmanship.”
      “I’m glad you’re a good shot,Major.” She accepted the pins and set about pinning herslacks into some sort of order. “I imagine you are?”
     “Sure.” He stroked ahand along the length of his Breda, almost as if it were partof a woman. “This isn’t army issue, but I found it somemonths ago in an abandoned plantation. It was probably used tohunt with, but these beauties can bring down a lion or an elephant.”
     “I-I’m going to get dressed,”she said. “Do you mind turning your back, Major?”
     “Anything to oblige a lady.” He swung about as if on the parade ground, but not before shehad seen his lips quirk at the edge. She felt the colour mountto the line of her hair, for when he had seen her in the altogetherit must seem prudish to him that she hesitated to step into herslacks in front of him. The Major whistled that Garland-Astairesong as she scrambled into her garments–We’re a couple ofswells, we live in the best hotels . . .
     “Are we really going to makeit to Tanga today?” she asked, and was brushing at her dirtyshirt when he turned to face her once more.
     “All being well.” Heslapped a hand against the mahogany grasp of his shotgun.
     “Superstitious, Major?” It was her turn to smile.
     “Soldiers are, lady. Haveyou never walked out on the arm of a dashing guardsman? I thoughtthat was all part of the debutante set-up?”
     “I’ve always preferred sailors,”she rejoined. “My father was one.”
     [70-71] “A Naval Commander,no less?”
     “No, he had a rather rakishyacht and he used to take Bahamian tourists out on fishing trips. One of the fools fell overboard on too much bourbon and my fatherwas killed by a barracuda when he dived in to help his client.”
     “That was a bad stroke of luck.” Wade O’Mara looked genuinely sympathetic. “Is your motherstill alive?”
     Eve nodded and fingered a rent inher sleeve, poking her finger through it. “She married acotton-mill owner out in Peru. They have children of their own,so I was reared by my godfather. I-I owe him a lot, as you canimagine.”
     “So it hasn’t been all sugarand sunshine for you?”
     “Is it ever? One would haveto be a romantic optimist to ever believe that life can be likethe movies, or one of those cloying novels you accused me of readingin bed. I actually prefer Raymond Chandler.”
     “Well, that’s one for the books.” He looked at her in a sort of pleased astonishment. “Ireally rate that man! His atmosphere–Bogart, of course, wassuperb as Philip Marlowe. Well, what do you know! A gal whogoes for the real thing in thrillers. Have you got a thing aboutJames Bond?”
     Eve shook her head, and thoughthow startlingly alive were his eyes in his unshaven face . . .slithers of steel in much-worn leather. “You sort of putme in mind of Bogart, do you know that?”
     “The African Queen,”he drawled. “Best movie ever made!”
     “We seem to have somethingin common, then?”
     “Anyway, let’s hope we don’thave to blow up an enemy battleship before we make it to Tanga.”
     [71-72] “I can’t imagine thebest hotel letting us in,” she smiled. “We’re hardlya pair of swells.”
     She handed him his khaki shirt,but needless to say he didn’t turn coyly away in order to putit on. He left it loose around his middle, but buttoned it tohis throat. “Just in case a mosquito fancies a piece ofmy hide,” he drawled.
     “Put some of this on your neckand face.” Eve held out the tube of repellent.
     He shook his head. “That won’tlast much longer and you need it more than I do.” He cameover and examined the rents in her shirt. “Are your armswell smarmed with the stuff? Those little brutes go for tendermeat.”
     Eve nodded and could feel his fingersstroking against her arm through one of the rents, and for thebriefest moment they stood like that in the jungle clearing, eyesmeeting, senses suddenly alert to each other.
     “I bet you look irresistiblein tennis white,” he drawled, “with one of those colouredbandeaux around your hair.”
     Eve couldn’t answer him in her usualquick way; she was so aware of him that her heart felt as if itwere pounding in her throat. “Afternoon tennis,” hewent on, “and then out to dine in a silver dress, with afox fur like snow about your face. A far cry from all this, eh? And you escort a smooth-faced boy instead of a seasoned soldiertrained to live by the gun and the panga.”
     “No smooth-faced boy couldget me to Tanga,” she said huskily. “We’d better beon our way, hadn’t we?”
     “Right.” Wade releasedher arm, but where his hand had been Eve could feel her skin tingling. . . electric sparks that seemed to be darting into her veryveins. [72-73] Nothing like that had ever happened when Jamestentatively touched her . . . never before had she felt such anawareness of another human being, and as she tied her bits andpieces into a plaid bundle, she was both sorry and glad that theirtrek to Tanga was almost over. There was a danger to this manthat went beyond the fact that he was a tough mercenary soldier. . . he made her aware of herself as a woman, and that was alarming,because always in the background of his life there hovered a wifeand a son, and the last thing Eve wanted was to complicate herlife by falling into an infatuation for a married man.
     She had seen that happen to a coupleof her friends, one of whom had become involved with a marriedman of fifty, and there had been a terrible scene when his wifefound out what was going on. The wife had attempted suicide,and the girl had been discarded, to spend weeks feeling heart-strickenand used.
     Eve recoiled from making that kindof mistake . . . better to marry James than to fall for a manshe could never call her own. The marriage would make her guardianhappy, at least . . . always supposing she could convince Jamesthat the mercenary Major had behaved like a perfect gentleman.
     “What are you grinning about?”
     She glanced somewhat guiltily atWade . . . then she realised that he was searching his pocketswith a rather troubled frown meshing his eyebrows. He tappedeach pocket in turn, then proceeded to turn them out, revealinga collection of oddments that included a gold medal on a grimyribbon. Then he stuffed the things back in his pockets and beganto look about on the ground.
     “What have you lost?”Eve enquired, and for no good [73-74] reason she began to feelrather nervy.
     “I can’t find my compass,”he replied grimly.
     “You mean–you’ve lost it?”
     “Yes dammit to hell. Musthave happened when I went looking for your clothes, and the devilknows where it could have dropped out of my blasted pocket. I’vegone and done what a raw recruit would have avoided unless hewanted a tongue-lashing!”
     “You mean, Major, you needit in order to follow the trail correctly? That we might getlost if–“
     He pressed his lips into a grimline and thumbed his jaw, rasping the black bristles. “Ishould have made sure the compass was safely lodged in my pocket,and now it’s lying somewhere in the jungle and I either lose moretime searching for it, or we take a chance and plough on and hopeto God we don’t lose ourselves.”
     “Do you feel you ought to searchfor the compass?” she asked worriedly.
     He glanced at his watch. “Everyhour we spend in this part of the territory is ripe with danger. I’d like to chance our arm, if you’re game, Eve?”
     She gazed at his strong, irregularfeatures . . . unyielding and unafraid. It was a face that gaveher courage; in fact she was prepared to bet that he had chancedhis arm on more than one occasion and had beaten the odds.
     “Let’s take a chance and goon,” she said. She glanced about her at the tangled jungle,thirsting under the hot sun, with vapour beginning to rise aroundthem. Suddenly the place took on a menace that made her wantto be on the move. “You know the risks better than I, andit does feel risky to remain here any longer.”
     “Either way it’s a risky decision,Eve. I’ll be honest [74-75] with you, I could lead you astray.”
     She met his grey eyes, slivers ofpure steel in his hard brown face. “I’ve trusted your judgmentso far, haven’t I?”
     “You have, lady, but don’tburst into tears if we end up in the middle of nowhere insteadof the airport at Tanga.” Having said that he began to stampout the fire, brushing big leaves over the ground where it hadbeen, and tossing deep among the big ferns the stones he had usedfor a stove.
     “C’est la vie,”he murmured. “I heard a guy say that in a film once–wasit Alan Ladd?–and it sounds exactly right for this occasion.”
     “What will be, will be,”she said, hoisting her bundle.
     “Right. And if we do loseourselves, the golden rule is–stay calm. Think you will, lady?”
     “Hope I will.” She brought a smile to her lips, but remembering it was her fault that theprecious compass was lost, her smile melted swiftly away. “I’msorry, Major.”
     “Regret is a waste of time,and we’ve wasted enough of that. All set, and quite comfortable. The sandals okay, and the ankle?”
     He had brought her sandals backwith him from the creek bank where she had left them, and as shenodded, hope ignited in her eyes. “We could search alongby the creek, couldn’t we?”
     “We’re going to, so keep yourfingers crossed.”
     Eve would have crossed all ten toesand fingers if it would have helped, but unfortunately there wasno glinting betrayal of the compass in the mounds of rank vegetation,alive with horrible-looking crabs that scuttled away from thekicking movements of Wade’s boots. [75-76] Finally he grittedhis teeth and gave a resigned shrug. “We can’t waste anymore time, so let’s be moving along. Got your walking stick?”
     She nodded and off they set alonga path that had to be cleared every step of the way by a heftyswing of the panga in Wade’s hand, lopping the rubberyleaves and spiny branches with an ease that formed in Eve’s minda mental image of what that kind of blade could do to human flesh.
     It was like walking in a monotonousdream, for everything had a sameness to it . . . the same tanglesof trailing vines, curtains of dank moss and fern, plaitings ofwhiplike tree-limbs. The smells alone had some kind of variation,musky from the clumps of orchids, earthy and almost sinister whenthey struck a patch of rotted vegetation, almost seductively scentedby velvety bells big enough to hide a snake.
     Eve could feel the sweat runningdown her spine, her thighs, and the slight valley between herbreasts. There were innumerable flies, gnats and other venomousthings flying about in the stripings of sunlight, but she followedon doggedly, blinking her sweat-clustered lashes and wincing atthe soreness this produced after a while.
     When they paused for a five-minuterest, Wade handed her a few more berries, big as strawberries,squashy and tasteless, but they helped to moisten her mouth andthroat.
     “We could have boiled someof that creek water, except that even a boiling might not havekilled off some of the tougher germs that breed where decay isrampant. We don’t want cholera, eh?”
     “God, no!”
     [76-77] “We might come acrosssome coconut palms, and if the nuts are green we’ll have ourselvessomething to drink, but in the meantime I’m preserving what wehave left in the water bottle.”
     “I bet you wish I was a boy,”she said, licking the last remnant of juice from her lips. “Thenyou wouldn’t concern yourself quite so much, would you?”
     “Who says I’m concerned aboutyou?” he jeered.
     Eve flushed slightly and evadedhis eyes, which could look so mocking when he liked. “Idon’t think you’re quite as hard-boiled as you make out.”
     “Don’t kid yourself, lady. In my kind of army you have to be tough in order to survive,and I’d be tough on whoever I had with me–even a creamy-skinnedlittle vixen from the manor.”
     “Is that sarcasm meant to pepperme up?” she asked, and beneath her shirt her creamy skinfelt as if a flame had swept over it.
     “What do you reckon?”
     She dared to look at him, but hisface was imperturbable and her vision was too sweat-blurred totake an accurate reading. “I shouldn’t imagine that anyonehas ever got into your mind and found out what you’re really thinking,”she said. “I bet you’re an awfully good poker player, aren’tyou?”
     “You wouldn’t lose your bet,”he drawled. “Shall we make tracks, ndito?”
     “Ready when you are, bwana.”

Chapter Five

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