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The Voodoo Religion
St. Marc, Haiti, March 20, 1935
In the gathering darkness, flames could be seen at the exhausts of the friendly fighters as they landed. One of them detached itself from the others and taxied over to the part of the airfield nearest the house on the beach. Angel and Cynthia could see Whitby jump out of the cockpit, and they ran to catch him up. It was obvious, even before he spoke, that something was wrong.
"Conway got shot down in flames. I'm not even sure his chute opened completely. Is the car running?"
It wasn't long before the old Ford was careening along dirt tracks leading up into the hills. The land was entirely settled with small plots, but the track wasn't meant for automobiles, and it took skill to keep on it. The inevitable finally happened when a front tire burst, causing the little vehicle to skew off the road into some bushes. As they climbed out, Whitby said,
"We may as well continue on foot. I think we're fairly near the spot where he went down."
As they headed down the track, Angel at last had a chance to ask Whitby what had happened.
"It was after the attack. Conway was in one of the Harts, and he might have straggled a little. The first thing I noticed was that one of the kids was on his tail. They were pretty low and Conway couldn't seem to shake him, so I dropped down. I figured I wouldn't be recognized at dusk in one of the unmarked Severskys. I got on the kid's tail, I think it might have been Timmy, and I put bullets all around him. He didn't seem to pay any attention. He stayed on Conway, and waited until he got a really good line."
Whitby paused a second, and Angel put in,
"That sounds like Timmy. He was on patrol, you know."
"Then it probably was him. Anyhow, there was nothing I could do without shooting him down. He got Conway's engine. The fire started and Conway got out. What worries me is that he was so low. I thought I saw a chute open, at least part-way, but I really couldn't see."
Cynthia found that she could communicate with the Creole- speaking peasants better that either Whitby or Angel. There was talk everywhere of some great event, but whether it consisted of the plane's crashing or the pilot's parachuting to earth she couldn't tell.
"We must be near the crash, but they can't seem to agree on the direction. If they do lead us to something, I'm afraid it may be the wrecked plane rather than the pilot."
"Even that'd be something. We'd be within a mile or so of Conway. We could move west from the plane and we'd probably find him."
Angel now spoke,
"I just don't know how these people would interpret a man parachuting to earth in terms of their religion and stuff. We really don't know them at all well."
It was late at night before they finally came to a clearing with a small cooking fire and a hut in the background. A half dozen peope were grouped around the fire, and among them was a blond young man with makeshift crutches and a heavily wrapped ankle.
During their search, Angel had told Cynthia that Conway was the most educated of the fliers. Not content with learning to speak both French and Creole, he had taken to writing Creole poetry. Evidently his skills had served him well, for he was now being treated as an honored guest at the campfire. He greeted them laconically,
"Glad to see you. I thought you might have quite a time finding me, so I made my own arrangements."
"Did you break your ankle landing?"
"Sprain, I think. But let me introduce everyone."
The introductions performed by Conway were elaborate and ceremonious, particularly since he himself had to be introduced to Cynthia before he could, in turn, introduce her to his hosts. The villagers seemed to enjoy it all, alternatively smiling and becoming grave. Then a sort of tea was produced, with toasts in Creole all around. Finally, there appeared morsels of food which had been cooked on spits over the fire. Conway smiled, talked easily in a casual resonant voice, and translated where necessary.
He made it seem as if anyone, flying a plane in peacetime, might be shot down and parachute into a tropical clearing. Then, meeting the local ladies and gentlemen, he would naturally engage them in an edifying conversation. His other friends, arriving late, would easily be drawn into the group.
When they eventually did leave, with yet another round of courtesies, Cynthia felt more as if she were leaving a dinner party than concluding a resuce mission.
Sitting beside Conway on the back seat of the repaired automobile, she mentioned that he must have had a narrow escape.
"I suppose so. It's rather embarrassing to be shot down by a sixteen-year-old boy. However, I rather imagine that these little humiliations are good for us."
"I certainly hope I don't encounter any humiliations of that sort."
Conway looked at her, half amused at something, she knew not what. He then said,
"Really, you must have had some little incidents yourself. Arriving the wrong day for a dinner party, perhaps, or forgetting your mother's biirthday."
"I don't get invited to many dinner parties, and my mother doesn't speak to me. Still less would I go up in a plane and let those crazy kids shoot at me. They would've lynched you if you'd landed on the airfield."
Conway laughed unrestrainedly, as if his own lynching was one of the funniest things he could imagine happening.
"Moses does have a wonderfully good sense of theatre. It's very difficult to say where the play ends and the reality begins."
"Didn't you find out tonight?"
"I don't think so. That was just another episode. We aren't in the middle of Ohio or Kansas. Everything in Haiti has two faces. One is comic and brutal. The other is whimsical and gentle. We fit in perfectly. Even the boys. They lap up myth and romance. They also want to kill each other, and would think it funny if they did. How about you? Do you feel comfortable here?"
Just then another tire burst, and they lurched to a stop. As Whitby and Angel got out, Cynthia's companion was waiting for an answer to his question. She replied,
"No, I can hardly say that I'm comfortable. But, as far as I can see, good pilots are being produced. I hope we can put them where they'll be needed when the time comes."
"To fight the Japanese, you mean? Perhaps. On the other hand, they may hire on as mercenaries in wars between the Bulgarians and the Hottentots. If you care too much about the ultimate goal, you might misinterpret things here."
"What do you mean?"
"We're not preparing to fight the Japanese. We're acting out some quite basic human fantasies. Good combatting evil, and all that sort of thing. It sounds foolish, of course, but, since it's all fake, it can be rather gripping."
Cynthia was silently thankful that Whitby was in command, and not Conway.
On the other hand, it was Conway whom she found exciting. She hoped that
something would come of it.
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