Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger

‘I must say that looks rather more inviting,. Janet remarked.

‘Not surprising,’ Drummond said. The Khan’s a Muslim, remember. At least they know how to live.’

‘What’s the religion of his people generally?’

‘A lot pay lip service to Islam and a great many still adhere to Buddhism, but in a bastardised form. And then there’s a minority group of Hindus who’ve kept themselves apart over the centuries. Not more than two or three thousand in the entire country.’

They were by now moving out of the town again and the houses were more scattered, two-storeyed walled villas in the main, obviously the homes of the rich of Sadar, whoever they were.

Drummond slowed, swung the jeep in through an arched entrance and braked to a halt in the courtyard of a small bungalow surrounded by a walled garden.

‘This is my place,’ he said. ‘If you don’t mind hanging on, I’ll drop my things and be straight out again,’

As he got out, a small, greying woman, swathed ia a dark robe, her face seamed and wrinkled, opened the front door and moved out on to the verandah inclining her head in greeting, hands together, Indian style.

‘Your housekeeper?’ Janet asked.

He nodded and reached for his canvas holdalL 1 won’t be a minute.’

‘Mind if I come in?’ she said. Td love to see inside.’

He hesitated perceptibly and then shrugged. If you’d like to, but there really isn’t much to see.’

She followed him up the steps. At the top, he murmured something quickly to the old woman who went back in, then stood to one side. ‘After you.’

She found herself in a narrow entrance hall with rough cast walls and a floor of polished wood. He opened a door to the right and she moved iato the main living room. There was a great stone fireplace, skin rugs on the wood floor and the furniture was of the simplest; a dining table, several easy chairs and a couple of shelves of books.

Til be with you in a minute,’ Drammond said and he crossed the room and went through another door.

She walked slowly around the room, examining everything and paused at the bookshelves. There was a small figurine of a dancer on the table beneath, carved from some dark wood of incredible hardness. She picked it up and examined it closely. The breasts were of a ripeness that was almost lifelike, hands extended in a ritualistic pose, the unsmiling, grave face fixed for all eternity. There was a slight sound from behind and she swung round and found a woman steading in the doorway to the hall.

Like the old housekeeper she was an Indian, but quite young with a pale, flawless complexion, set off to perfection by her scarlet sari. There was a silver rope necklace around her neck, gold bracelets on the wrists and her dark eyes were rimmed with kohL

In that same moment, Drummond came in from the bedroom. He said something quietly ia Urdu and die girl turned at once and disappeared into the halL

‘Who was that?’ Janet said.

“The old girl’s daughter, Famia.’ He took the figurine gently from her hands. ‘You Hkr

.Yes, is it very old?’ she replied automatically.

‘Greco-Buddhist. Probably second century. You’ll find things like this all over Balpur. As I said before, Buddhism used to be very strong up here, real Buddhism, I mean. Monasteries all over the place.’

‘Are there any left?’

‘One or two.’ He glanced at his watch. We’d better get moving. It’s almost eleven o’clock and Father Kerrigan holds his daily surgery at half-past. We’ll try and catch him before it starts.’

They went out to the jeep and he handed her in and drove away as if nothing had happened. But things were not the same and there was a constraint between them that had not been present before.

Janet remembered the girl, her shapely body, the pale beauty of her skin against the scarlet sari, and a burning anger took possession of her that she found impossible to analyse.

The mission was on a hill above the river. It was a long, low, flat-roofed building, walled in by grey stone, as seemed to be the custom with all houses in this stark country, and the tiny belfry of a small chapel reared above it

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Categories: Higgins, Jack