At the Stelling

The author of three novels, JOHN HEARNE grew up and was educated in Jamaica, and in his writings he describes with dramatic force the people and customs of the islands of the Caribbean.He is now living in London and working on a new novel. His last book, THE EYE OF THE STORM,was published by Atlantic-Little, Brown.

by John Hearne

DIS one is no boss fe’ we, Dunnie,” Son-Son say. “Dis one is boss fe’ messenger and women in department office, but not fe’ we.”

“Shut your mouth,” I tell him. “Since when a stupid, black nigger can like and don’t like a boss in New Holland? What you goin’ do? Retire and live ‘pon your estate?” But I know say that Son-Son is right.

The two of we talk so at the back of the line; Son-Son carrying the chain, me with the level on the tripod. It is three mile to where the Catacuma run black past the stelling, and even the long light down the sky can’t strike a shine from Catacuma water. You can smell Rooi Swamp, dark and sweet and wicked, like a woman in a bad house back in Zuyder Town. Nothing live in Rooi Swamp except snake; like nothing live in a bad woman. The new boss, Mister Cockburn, walk far ahead with the little assistant man, Mister Bailey. John stay close behind them, near to the rifle. The other rest of the gang file out upon the trail between them three and me and Son-Son. Mister Cockburn is brand-new from head to foot. New hat, new bush shirt, new denim pant, new boot. Him walk new.

“Mister Cockburn!” John call. “Look!”

I follow the point of John’s finger and see the deer. It fat and promise tender, and it turn on the hoof tip like deer always do, with the four tip standing in a nickel and leaving enough bare to make a cent change, before the spring into high grass. Mister Cockburn unship the rifle, and pow! —if we was all cow, then him shoot plenty grass for us to eat.

“Why him don’t give John de rifle?” Son-Son say.

“Because de rifle is government,” I tell him, “and Mister Cockburn is government. So it is him have a right to de rifle.”

Mister Cockburn turn and walk back. He is a tall, high-mulatto man, young and full in body, with eyes not blue and not green but colored like the glass of a beer bottle. The big hat make him look like a soldier in the moving pictures.

“Blast this sun,” he say, loud, to John. “I can’t see a damn thing in the glare; it’s right in my eyes.” The sun is falling down the sky behind us, but maybe him think we can’t see that too.

John don’t answer but only nod once, and Mister Cockburn turn and walk on, and I know say that if I could see John’s face, it would be all Carib buck. Sometimes you can see where the Indian lap with it, but other times it is all Indian and closed like a prison gate; and I know say, too, that it was this face Mister Cockburn did just see.

“Trouble dere, soon,” Son-Son say, and him chin point to John and then to Mister Cockburn. “Why Mister Hamilton did have to get sick, eh, Dunnie? Dat was a boss to have.”

“Whatever trouble to happen is John’s trouble,”I tell him. “John’s trouble and Mister Cockburn’s. Leave it. You is a poor naygur wid no schooling, five pickney, and a sick woman. Dat is trouble enough for you.”

But in my heart I find agreement for what stupid Son-Son have to say. It I had only known what trouble —

No. Life don’t come so. It only come one day at a time. Like it come every day since we lose Mister Hamilton and Mister Cockburn take we up to survey the Catacuma drainage area in Mister Hamilton’s stead.

The first day we go on the savanna beyond the stelling, I know say that Mister Cockburn is frighten. Frighten and hiding his frighten from himself. The worst kind of frighten. You hear frighten in him voice when he shout at we to keep the chain straight and plant the markers where him tell us. You see frighten when him try to work us, and himself, one hour after midday, when even the alligators hide in the water. And you understand frighten when him try to run the camp at the stelling as if we was soldier and him was a general. But all that is because he is new, and it would pass but for John. Because of John everything remain bad. From the first day when John try to treat him as he treat Mister Hamilton.

You see, John and Mister Hamilton was like one thing, except that Mister Hamilton have schooling and come from a big family in Zuyder Town. But they each suck from a Carib woman, and from the first both their spirit take. When we have Mister Hamilton as boss, whatever John say we do, as if it was Mister Hamilton say it, and at night when Mister Hamilton lie off in the Berbice chair on the veranda and him and John talk, it sound like one mind with two tongue. Only when Mister Cockburn come back up the river with we, after Mister Hamilton take sick, we know say all that is change. For Mister Cockburn is frighten and must cut down John’s pride, and from that day John don’t touch the rifle and don’t come to the veranda except to take orders and for Mister Cockburn to show that gang foreman is only gang foreman and that boss is always boss.

Son-Son say true, I think. Trouble is to come between John and Mister Cockburn. Poor John. Here, in the bush, him is a king, but in New Zuyder him is just another poor half-buck without a job and Mister Cockburn is boss, and some he cast down and some he raiseth up.

AHEAD of we, I see Mister Cockburn trying to step easy and smooth, as if we didn’t just spend seven hours on the savanna. Him is trying hard, but every often the new boot kick black dirt from the trail. That is all right, I think. Him will learn. Him don’t know say that even John hold respect for the sun on the Catacuma. The sun down here on the savanna is like the centurion in the Bible who say to one man, Come, and he cometh, and to another, Go, and he goeth. Like it say Go to Mister Hamilton. For it was a man sick bad we take down to the mouth of the river that day after he fall down on the wharf at the stelling. And it was nearly a dead man we drive up the coast road one hundred mile to Zuyder Town. Afterward the government doctor tell Survey that he must stay in the office forevermore; and even Mister Hamilton, who think him love the bush and the swamp and the forest more than life itself, was grateful to the doctor for those words.

So it was it did happen with Mister Hamilton, and so it was Mister Cockburn come to we.

Three weeks we is on the Catacuma with Mister Cockburn, and every new day things stay worse than the last.

In the morning, when him come out with the rifle, him shout: “Dunnie! Take the corial across the river and put up these bottles.” And he fling the empty rum and beer bottle down the slope to me and I get into the corial and paddle across the river and put the necks over seven sticks on the other bank. Then him and the little assistant, Mister Bailey, stay on the veranda and fire across the river, each spelling each, until the bottle is all broken.

And John, down by the river, in the soft morning light, standing in the corial we have half buried in the water, half drawn upon the bank, washing himself all over careful like an Indian and not looking to the veranda.

“John!” Mister Cockburn shout, and laugh bad. “Careful, eh, man. Mind a perai don’t cut off your balls.”

We have to stand in the corial because perai is bad on the Catacuma and will take off your heel and your toe if you stand in the river six inches from the bank. We always joke each other about it, but not the way Mister Cockburn joke John. That man know what him is doing and it is not nice to hear.

John say nothing. Him stand in the still-water catch of the corial that we half sink and wash him whole body like an Indian and wash him mouth out and listen to Mister Cockburn fire at the bottle across the river. Only we know how John need to hold that rifle. When it come to rifle and gun, him is ail Indian, no African in it at all. Rifle to him is like woman to we. Him don’t really hold a rifle, him make love with it. And I think how things go in Mister Hamilton’s time, when him and John stand on the veranda in the morning and take seven shots, break seven bottle, and out in the bush they feel shame if four shot fire and only three piece of game come back. Mister Hamilton is a man think hard all the time. And the question he ask! “Dunnie,” he ask, “what do you see in your looking glass?” or “Do you know, Dunnie, that this country has had its images broken on the wheels of false assumptions? Arrogance and servility. Twin criminals pleading for the mercy of an early death.” That is how Mister Hamilton talk late at night when him lie off in the big Berbice chair and share him mind with we.

AFTER three weeks on the Catacuma, Mister Cockburn and most of we go down the river, Mister Cockburn to take him plans to the department, and the rest of we because nothing to do when him is gone. All the way down the river John don’t say a word. Him sit in the boat bows and stare down the black water as if it is a book giving him secret to remember. Mister Cockburn is loud and happy, for him feel, we know say now, who is boss, and him begin to lose him frighten spirit.

“Remember now,” him say in the department yard at Zuyder Town. “Eight o’clock sharp on Tuesday morning. If one of you is five minutes late, the truck leaves without you. Plenty of men between here and the Catacuma glad to get work.” We laugh and say, “Sure, boss, sure,” because we know say that already him is not so new as him was and that him is only joking. Only John don’t laugh, but walk out of the yard and down the street.

Monday night. John come to my house; I is living in a little place between the coolie cinema and the dockyard. “Dunnie,” he say, “Dunnie, you have fifteen dollar?”

“Jesus,” I say, “what you need fifteen dollar for, man? Dat is plenty, you know?”

“All right,” he say. “You don’t have it. I only ask.”

Him turn, as if it was the time him ask and I don’t have no watch.

“Hold on, hold on,” I tell him: “I never say I don’t have fifteen dollar. I just say, what you want it for?”

“Lend me. I don’t have enough for what I want. As we pay off next month, you get it back. My word to God.”

I go into the house.

“Thank you, Dunnie,” John say when I bring him the fifteen dollar. “One day you will want something bad. Come to me then.”

And him gone up the street so quick you scarcely see him pass under the light.

The next morning, in the truck going down to the boat at the Catacuma mouth, we see what John did want fifteen dollar for.

“You have a license for that?” Mister Cockburn ask him, hard and quick, when he see it.

“Yes,” John say, and stow the new Johnson repeater with his gear up in the boat bows.

“All right,” Mister Cockburn say. “I hope you do. I don’t want any unlicensed guns in my camp.”

Him and John was never born to get on.

We reach the stelling late afternoon. The bungalow stand on the bluff above the big tent where we sleep, and Zacchy, who we did leave to look to the camp, wait on the wharf, waving to us.

When we passing the gear from the boat, John grab his bundle by the string and swing it up. The string break and shirt, pant, and handkerchief fly out to float on the water. Them float, but the new carton of .32 ammunition fall out too, and we see it for a second, green in the black water as it slide to the bottom and the mud and the perai. Mister Bailey, the little assistant, look sorry, John look sick, and Mister Cockburn laugh a little up in the back of him nose. “Is that all you had?” him ask.

“Yes,” John say. “I don’t need no more than that for three weeks.”

“Too bad,” Mister Cockburn reply. “Too bad. Rotten luck. I might be able to spare you a few from stores.”

Funny how a man who can stay decent with everybody always find one other who turn him bad.

Is another three weeks we stay up on the survey. We triangulate all the stretch between the Rooi Swamp and the first forest. Things is better this time. Mister Cockburn don’t feel so rampageous to show what a hard boss him is. Everything is better except him and John. Whenever him and John speak, one voice is sharp and empty and the other voice is dead, and empty too. Every few day him give John two, three cartridge, and John go out and come back with two, three piece of game. A deer and a labba, maybe. Or a bush pig and an agouti. Whatever ammunition John get, him bring back meat to match. And you know, I think that rowel Mister Cockburn’s spirit worse than anything else John do. Mister Cockburn is shooting good, too, and we is eating plenty meat, but him don’t walk with the gun like John. Who could ever? Not even Mister Hamilton.

The last Saturday before we leave, John come to Mister Cockburn. It is afternoon and work done till Monday. Son-Son and me is getting the gears ready for a little cricket on the flat piece under the kookorit palms. The cricket gears keep in the big room with the other rest of stores and we hear every word John and Mister Cockburn say.

“No, John,” Mister Cockburn tell him. “We don’t need any meat. We’re leaving Tuesday morning. We have more than enough now.” Him voice sleepy and deep from the Berbice chair.

“Sell me few rounds, Mister Cockburn,” John say. “I will give you store price for a few rounds of .32.”

“They’re not mine to sell,” Mister Cockburn say, and him is liking the whole business so damn much his voice don’t even hold malice, as it always do for John. “You know every round of ammunition here belongs to Survey. I have to indent and account for every shot fired.”

Him know, like we know, that Survey don’t give a lime how much shot fire up in the bush so long as the men stay happy and get meat.

“You can’t give three shot, Mister Cockburn?” John say. You know how bad John want to use the new repeater when you hear him beg.

“Sorry, John,” Mister Cockburn say. “Have you checked the calking on the boat? I don’t want us shipping any water when we’re goingdown on Tuesday.”

A little later all of we except John go out to play cricket. Mister Cockburn and Mister Bailey come too, and each take captain of a side. We play till the parrots come talking across the river to the kookorits and the sky turn to green and fire out on the savanna. When we come back to the camp John is gone. Him take the corial and gone.

“That damn buck,” Mister Cockburn say to Mister Bailey. “Gone up the river to his cousins, I suppose. We won’t see him until Monday morning now. You can take an Indian out of the bush, but God Almighty Himself can’t take the bush out of the Indian.”

MONDAY morning, we get up and John is there. Him is seated on the stelling and all you can see of him face is the teeth as him grin and the cheeks swell up and shiny with pleasure. Lay out on the stelling before him is seven piece of game. Three deer, a labba, and three bush pig. None of we ever see John look so. Him tired till him thin and gray, but happy and proud till him can’t speak.

“Seven,” him say at last and hold up him finger. “Seven shots, Dunnie. That’s all I take. One day and seven shot.”

“What’s this?” a voice call from up the veranda and we look and see Mister Cockburn in the soft, white-man pajamas lean over to look at we on the stelling. “Is that you, John? Where the devil have you been?”

“I make a little trip, Mister Cockburn,” John say. Him is so proud and feel so damn sweet him like even Mister Cockburn. “I make a little trip. I bring back something for you to take back to town. Come and make your choice, sir.”

Mister Cockburn is off the veranda before the eye can blink, and we hear the fine red slipper go slap-slap on the path down the bluff. Him come to the wharf and stop short when him see the game. Then him look at John for a long time and turn away slow and make water over the stelling edge and come back, slow and steady.

“All right,” him say, and him voice soft and feel bad in your ears, like you did stumble in the dark and put your hand into something you would walk round. “All right, John. Where did you get the ammunition? Who gave it to you, eh?” Him voice go up and break like a boy’s voice when the first hairs begin to grow low down on him belly.

“Mister Cockburn,” John say, so crazy proud that even now him want to like the man and share pride with him. “I did take the rounds, sir. From your room. Seven shot I take, Mister Cockburn, and look what I bring you back. Take that deer, sir, for yourself and your family. Town people never taste meat like that.”

“You son of a bitch,” Mister Cockburn reply. “You damned, impertinent, thieving son of a bitch. Bailey!”—and him voice scream until Mister Bailey come out to the veranda. “Bailey! Listen to this. We have a thief in the camp. This beauty here feels that the government owes him his ammunition.”

“What else did you take?” Him voice sound as if a rope tie round him throat.

“What else I take?” John look as if him try to kiss a woman and she slap him face. “How I could take anything, Mister Cockburn? As if I am a thief. Seven little shot I take from the carton. You don’t even remember how many rounds you did have left. How many you did have, eh? Tell me that.”

“Don’t back-chat me, you bloody thief!” Mister Cockburn yell. “This is your last job with Survey, you hear me? I’m going to fire your arse as soon as we get to the river mouth. And don’t think this game is yours to give away. You shot it with government ammunition. With stolen government ammunition. Here! Dunnie, Son-Son, Zacchy! Get that stuff up to the house. Zacchy, gut them and hang them. I’ll decide what to do with them later.”

John stay as still as if him was dead. Only when we gather up the game and a kid deer drop one splash of dark stomach blood onto the boards him draw one long breath and shiver.

“Now,” Mister Cockburn say, “get to hell out of this! Up to the tent. You don’t work for me any more. I’ll take you downriver on Tuesday and that’s all. And if I find one dollar missing from my wallet, I’m going to see you behind bars.”

It is that day I know say how nothing so bad before but corruption and rottenness come worse after. None of we could forget John’s face when we pick up him game. For we Negro, and for the white man and for the mulatto man, game is to eat sometimes, or it is play to shoot. But for the Indian, oh God, game that him kill true is life everlasting. It is manhood.

WHEN we come back early in the afternoon, with work done, we don’t see John. But the corial still there, and the engine boat, and we know that him not far. Little later, when Zacchy cook, I fill a billy pot and go out to the kookorits. I find him there, in the grass.

“John,” I say. “Don’t tek it so. Mister Cockburn young and foolish and don’t mean harm. Eat, John. By the time we reach river mouth tomorrow everyt’ing will be well again. Do, John. Eat dis.”

John look at me and it is one black Indian Carib face stare like statue into mine. All of him still, except the hands that hold the new rifle and polish, polish, polish with a rag until the barrel shine blue like a Chinee whore hair.

I come back to the stelling. Mister Cockburn and Mister Bailey lie into two deck chair under the tarpaulin, enjoying the afternoon breeze off the river. Work done, and they hold celebration with a bottle. The rest of the gang sit on the boards and drink too. Nothing sweeter than rum and river water.

“Mister Cockburn,” I tell him, “I don’t like how John stay. Him is hit hard, sah.”

“Oh, sit down, Dunnie,” him say. “Have a drink. That damned buck needs a lesson. I’ll take him back when we reach Zuyder Town. It won’t do him any harm to miss two days’ pay.”

So I sit, although I know say I shouldn’t. I sit and I have one drink, and then two, and then one more. And the Catacuma run soft music round the piles of the stelling. All anybody can feel is that work done and we have one week in Zuyder Town before money need call we to the bush again.

Then as I go to the stelling edge to dip water in the mug I look up and see John. Him is coming down from the house, gliding on the path like Jesus across the Sea of Galilee, and I say, “Oh God, Mister Cockburn! Where you leave the ammunition, eh?”

But already it is too late to say that.

The first shot catch Mister Cockburn in the forehead and him drop back in the deck chair, peaceful and easy, like a man call gently from sleep who only half wake. And I shout, “Dive — oh, Mister Bailey!” and as I drop from the stelling into black Catacuma water, I feel something like a marabunta wasp sting between my legs and know say I must be the first thing John ever shoot to kill that him only wound.

I sink far down in that river and already, before it happen, I can feel perai chew at my fly button and tear off my cod, or alligator grab my leg to drag me to drowning. But God is good. When I come up the sun is still there and I strike out for the little island in the river opposite the stelling. The river is full of death that pass you by, but the stelling holds a walking death like the destruction of Apocalypse.

I make ground at the island and draw myself into the mud and the bush, and blood draw after me from between my legs. And when I look back at the stelling, I see Mister Cockburn lie down in him deck chair, as if fast asleep, and Mister Bailey lie on him face upon the boards, with him hands under him stomach, and Zacchy on him back with him arms flung wide like a baby, and three more of the gang, Will, Benjie, and Sim, all sprawl off on the boards, too, and a man more, the one we call Venezuela, fallen into the grass, and a last one, Christopher, walking like a chicken without a head until him drop close to Mister Bailey and cry out once before death hold him. The other seven gone. Them vanish. All except Son-Son, poor foolish Son-Son, who make across the flat where we play cricket, under the kookorits and straight to Rooi Swamp.

“Oh Jesus, John!” him bawl as him run. “Don’t kill me, John! Don’t kill me, John!”

And John standing on the path, with the repeater still as the finger of God in him hands, aim once at Son-Son, and I know say how, even at that distance, him could break Son-Son’s back clean in the middle. But him lower the gun and shrug and watch Son-Son into the long grass of the savanna and into the swamp. Then him come down the path and look at the eight dead men.

“Dunnie!” him call. “I know you is over there. How you stay?”

I dig a grave for the living into the mud.

“Dunnie!” him call again. “You hurt bad? Answer me, man. I see you, you know? Look!”

A bullet bury itself one inch from my face and mud smack into my eye.

“Don’t shoot me, John,” I beg. “I lend you fifteen dollar, remember?”

“I finish shooting, Dunnie,” him say. “You hurt bad?”

“No,” I tell him the lie. “I all right.”

“Good,” him say from the stelling. “I will bring the corial come fetch you.”

“No, John!” I plead with him. “Stay where you is. Stay there! You don’t want kill me now, but I know say how demon guide a Carib hand sometimes and make that hand cut throats. Stay there, John!”

Him shrug again and squat beside Mister Cockburn’s chair, and lift the fallen head and look at it and let the head fall again. And I wait. I wait and bleed and suffer, and watch John the way I would watch a bushmaster snake until dark fall. All night I lie there until God take pity and close my eye and mind.

When my mind come back to me, it is full day. John gone from the stelling and I can see him sit on the steps up at the house, watching the river. The dead stay same place where he drop them. Fever burn in me, but the leg stop bleed and I dip water from the river and drink.

THE day turn above my head until I hear a boat engine on the far side of the bend, and in a little bit a police launch come up midstream and make for the stelling. When they draw near, one man step to the bows with a boat hook, and then the ride talk from the steps and the man yell, hold him wrist, and drop to the deck. Him twist and wriggle behind the cabin quicker than a lizard. I hear an Englishman’s voice yell in the cabin and the man at the wheel find reverse before the yell come back from the savanna. The boat go downstream a little, then nose into the overhang of the bank, where John’s ride can’t find them. I call out once and they come across to the island and take me off on the other side, away from the house. And is when I come on board that I see how police know so quick about what happen. For Son-Son, poor foolish old Son-Son, who I think still hide out in the swamp, is there. Him have on clothes not him own, and him is scratched and torn as if him had try to wrestle a jaguar.

And then I learn that Son-Son did run straight as a peccary pig, all night, twenty mile across Rooi Swamp where never any man had even put him foot before. Him did run until him drop down in the camp of a coolie rancher bringing cattle down to the coast, and they did take him from there down to the nearest police post. When him tell police, they put him in the jeep and drive like hell for the river mouth and the main station.

“Lord witness, Son-Son,” I say, “you was born to hang. How you didn’t meet death in Rooi Swamp, eh?”

Him just look frighten and tremble, and the sergeant laugh.

“Him didn’t want to come upriver with we,” he say. “Superintendent nearly have to tie him before him would step on the boat.”

“Sergeant,” the Superintendent say. Him was the Englishman I hear call out when John wound the policeman. “Sergeant, you take three men and move in on him from the side of the house. Spread out well. I’ll take the front approach with the rest. Keep low, you understand.”

“Don’t do it, Super,” I beg him. “Look how John stay in that house up there. River behind him and clear view before. Him will see you and you move one step. Don’t do it.”

Him look at me angry and the white eyebrow draw together in him red face.

“Do you think I’m going to leave him up there?” he say. “He’s killed eight and already tried to kill one of my men.”

“No, Super,” I tell him. “John don’t try to kill you. If him did try, then you would have take one dead man out of the river. Him only want to show you that him can sting.”

But what use a poor black man talk to police. The sergeant and him three stand on the cabin roof, hold onto the bank, and drag themself over. Then the Super with him five do the same. I can hear them through the grass like snakes on them stomach. John let them come a little way to the house, and then, with him first shot, him knock the Super’s black cap off, and with him second, him plug the sergeant in the shoulder. The police rifles talk back for a while, and Son-Son look at me. When the police come back, I take care to say no word. The sergeant curse when the Super pour Dettol on the wound and beg the Super to let him go back and bring John down.

“We’ll get him,” the Super say. “He knows it. He knows he doesn’t stand a chance.”

But him voice can’t reach John to tell him that, and when them try again one man come back with him big toe flat and bloody in the police boot. When I go out, though, and walk along the bank to the stelling and lay out the bodies decent and cover them with canvas from the launch, it could have been an empty house up there on the bluff.

Another hour pass and the police begin to fret, and I know say that them is going to try once more. I want to tell them don’t go, but them is police and police don’t like hear other men talk.

And is then, as we wait, that we hear a next engine, an outboard, and round the bend come a Survey boat, and long before it draw up beside the overhang, my eye know Mister Hamilton as him sit straight and calm in the bows.

“Dunnie, you old fool,” him say and hold me by the shoulders. “Why didn’t you stop it? You mean to say you couldn’t see it coming?”

Him smile to show me that the words is to hide sorrow. Him is the same Mister Hamilton. Dress off in the white shirt and white stocking him always wear, with the big linen handkerchief spread upon him head under the hat and hanging down the neck back to guard him from sun.

“I came as soon as I could,” him say to the Super. “As soon as the police in Zuyder rang Survey and told us what you had phoned through.”

You can see the Super is glad to have one of him own sort to talk with. More glad, though, because it is Mister Hamilton, and Mister Hamilton’s spirit make all trouble seem less.

“We might have to bomb him out,” Super say. “I never have seen a man to shoot like that. Do you think he’s sane, Hamilton?”

Mister Hamilton give a little smile that is not a smile. “He’s sane now,” he say. “If he wasn’t, he’d have blown your head off.”

“What’s he going to do?” Super ask.

Mister Hamilton lift him shoulder and shake him head. Then him go up to the cabin top and jump on the bank and walk to the stelling. Not a sign from the house.

I follow him and move the canvas from all the staring dead faces and him look and look and pass him hand, tired and slow, across him face.

“How did it go, Dunnie?” him ask.

I tell him.

“You couldn’t have stopped him?”

“No,” I say. “Him did have pride to restore. Who could have stop that? You, maybe, Mister Hamilton. But I doubt me if even you.”

“All right,” him say. “All right.”

Him turn and start to walk to the house.

“Come back, man,” Super shout from where him lie in the grass on the bank. Mister Hamilton just walk on regular and gentle.

John’s first bullet open a white wound in the boards by Mister Hamilton’s left foot. The next one do the same by the right. Him never look or pause; even him back, as I watch, don’t stiffen. The third shot strike earth before him and kick dirt onto him shoe.

“John!” him call, and Mister Hamilton have a voice like a howler monkey when him want. “John, if you make a ricochet and kill me, I’m going to come up there and break your neck. ‘

Him walk on, easy and slow, up the path, up the steps, and into the house.

I sit by the dead and wait.

Little bit pass and Mister Hamilton come back. Him is alone, with a basket in him hand. Him face still. Like the face of a mountain lake, back in the interior, where you feel but can’t see the current and the fullness of water below.

“Shirley,” him call to the Super, “bring the launch up to the stelling. You’ll be more comfortable here than where you are. It’s quite safe. He won’t shoot if you don’t rush him.”

I look into the basket him bringing down from the house. It full of well-cooked labba. Enough there to feed five times the men that begin to gather on the stelling.

The Super look into the basket also, and I see a great bewilderment come into him face. “Good God!” him say. “What’s all this? What’s he doing?”

“Dunnie,” Mister Hamilton say to me, “there’s a bottle of rum in my boat. And some bread and a packet of butter. Bring them over for me, will you? Go on,” him tell Super, “have some. John thought you might be getting hungry.”

I go to the Survey boat and fetch out the rum and the bread and the butter. I bring knife, also, and a plate and a mug for Mister Hamilton, and a billy full of river water for put into the rum. When everything come, him cut bread and butter it, and pour rum for Super and himself, and take a leg of labba. When him chew the food, him eat like John. The jaws of him mouth move sideways and not a crumb drop to waste. The rest of we watch him and Super, and then we cut into the labba too, and pour liquor from the bottle. The tarpaulin stretch above we and the tall day is beginning to die over the western savanna.

“Why did he do it?” Super say and look at the eight dead lay out under the canvas. “I don’t understand it, Hamilton. Christ! He must be mad.”

Him lean over beside Mister Hamilton and cut another piece of labba from the basket.

“What does he think he can do?” him ask again. “If he doesn’t come down, I’m going to send downriver for grenades. We’ll have to get him out somehow.”

Mister Hamilton sit and eat and say nothing. Him signal to me and I pass him the bottle. Not much left into it, for we all take a drink. Mister Hamilton tilt out the last drop and I take the billy and go to the stelling edge and draw a little water for Mister Hamilton and bring it back. Him draw the drink and put the mug beside him. Then him step from under the tarpaulin and fling the empty bottle high over Catacuma water. And as the bottle turn and flash against the dying sun, I see it fall apart in the middle and broken glass falling like raindrops as John’s bullet strike.

We all watch and wait, for now the whole world stand still and wait with we. Only the water make soft music round the stelling.

Then from up the house there is the sound of one shot. It come to us sudden and short and distant, as if something close it round.

“All right,” Mister Hamilton say to the Super. “You better go and bring him down now.”