We went back to the veranda and sat there forever. My last meal and the Sultan of Ternate seemed a long time away. In the end, after I had given up all hope, dinner arrived. We sat round a circular table, and a raised centre-piece was loaded with dishes. We spun this round and stabbed whatever we fancied. No one said a word; the only noise was the clatter of knives and forks, and the creak of the revolving table. It was quick work while it lasted. One after another the guests finished abruptly and moved away, to let the women have an innings. I was desperately tired, and every few seconds my eyes closed, and I angled for an invitation to sleep there. ‘Sleep?’ they said. ‘Oh, no, no, no. The Postmaster has arranged a dance, and we must return to Mati.’ So off we went again, after the President had presented me in front of his lined-up household with three tins of gasoline, some marvellous cigars, and a freshly salted wild cat skin. He had shot it himself the day before.
We returned to the military commander’s house to find the vast central room clear of furniture. I woke up a little at the prospect of a lively evening among the maidens of Mati. But although some coy maidens did drift in from the darkness, they were tightly cased in Spanish-looking dresses of stiff brocade, and each was guarded by a chaperone with the eye of a bird of prey. I was led round and introduced to everyone, one by one, with a long speech in each case. I tried to smile without looking silly, and I danced once or twice with girls who kept as far away from me as possible while every step was watched by the chaperone. At last I had to waylay my Army host, thank him for his great kindness, and regret that as I was falling asleep on my feet, I must beg to retire. The poor fellow was much put out and thought me a dreadful bore, I fear. I remember being shown a bunk and estimating that the big drum of the dance band was about four feet from my ear through the thin partition; then I was asleep.
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Next morning, in spite of the sultry heat, there was a good breeze and I took off at the first try, after a long run. I reached Ormoc, in Leyte, after a flight of only 300 miles. Again I was the guest of the local President. This one was a manual labourer. I had appalling trouble taking off again. The surface of Ormoc Bay was glassy smooth, and by 2 o’clock in the afternoon I had been five hours on the bay trying to get off. Each time I could get the seaplane very near to taking off, but she jibbed at the final lift. The suction of the smooth water seemed to hold the heels of the float firmly. I had pumped the bilges, and had found them in a good state, so I thought. I kept on trying to take off in the same direction round the headland, instead of returning over the same water: at least I was taxiing towards Manila in that way! After each failure I opened the petrol cock and let the reeking spirit patter on the wing surface. I was determined to get into the air in the end, even if I might have only enough petrol left to fly back to Ormoc. After much struggling, I was 15 miles across the bay from Ormoc. I managed to take off at last in heavy rain; I think the raindrops must have broken the smooth surface just enough to reduce the suction. I only had three and a half hours’ fuel left, and searched my chart for some place within two hours’ flight. I decided on Masbate.
On arrival at the Governor’s house I noticed several large poles rising through the floor in the middle of the big room of the upper storey. They were evidently part of the structure of the house, and coils of stout rope round a piano bound it to one of the poles. I thought this was odd until I was woken up in the night by an earthquake. It seized the house and shook it violently until it rattled. I counted eleven earthquakes during the night, and each shake was weird and uncanny. The next morning was a terrible one. Before I started out on the hunt for petrol I felt feverish and dull-witted from my six hours in Ormoc Bay the day before, followed by the earthquakes through the night. I had no breakfast, and my head ached, and I went round asking, ‘Where can I buy ten gallons of gasoline?’ countless times. A motor-car took me to the Government offices, where the Governor, whose name was Cordova, introduced me to treasurers, attorneys, and many other kinds of official, all working in a big room in clean whites at schoolboy-type desks. After hours of discussion the town presented me with 12 gallons of petrol, for which I was most grateful. We then left on a hunt for oil, visiting shop after shop. I think the Governor started on the least likely ones; he was enjoying putting on an act in each shop, unbending affably and at great length to his people. After I had bought some of the most suitable oil I could find, it was difficult to find anything to put it in. The Chinese storekeeper was hurt at my noticing the dirt in the bottom of a tin he produced. I was quite firm that I did not want it in the engine, and finally he produced his handkerchief and wiped the tin clean with that.
If my difficulties in Ormoc Bay the day before had made me sorry for myself, I should have saved my self-pity for today. I had only 18 gallons of fuel on board, and a brisk 7-knot breeze to help me. At each attempt to take off, the motor vibrated horribly. One propeller tip had a piece bitten out of the edge where it had evidently struck a piece of floating wood or coconut, and the gap gradually widened as the propeller flogged the spray. The heat sucked my energy from me. Waiting for the engine to cool, I squatted on a float in the shade of a wing and wrote in my notebook, ‘It would break your heart, this game; I have been out here three and a half hours now.’ At my next attempt, when I opened up the motor, the starboard float buried itself in the water like a submarine submerging. For some distance I could not get it above the surface. At first I thought the float must have been holed by one of the many waterlogged coconuts drifting about. I tried all the bilges again, but they only held the usual quart or so. Then I thought that the starboard wings must have become waterlogged, and looking closely I found that the little drain holes along the trailing edge had never been punched through the fabric. I opened the nearest one with my knife, and some water ran out. In my rubber shoes, carefully balancing, I walked along the rear wing spar, pricking the holes open, but no more water ran out, so I decided that it must be the bottom wing at fault. For twenty minutes I tried to attract one of the canoes drifting round the shore, and at last one came up, the little man and his family in it watching me open-mouthed. I climbed in and manoeuvred the craft under the lower wings, so that I could prick each drain hole. There was a cupful of water in the wing, but no more. Next time I started taxiing, the seaplane went round in a circle as soon as I opened up. I kicked on full opposite rudder and pushed the throttle wide open, but the only result was that the starboard float drove under water and went on submerging until the wing also dipped in. I switched off before the seaplane capsized.
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