Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger

Flocks of goats, sheep and a few small horses grazed on the sparse grass at the entrance, and thirty or forty people waited patiently, squatting on the ground or leaning against the wail

As Drummond slowed the jeep to drive through, Janet leaned out, her trained eye quickly taking in the evidence of disease. Rickets and ringworm in the children, old people with faces eaten away by yaws, eyes encrusted with dried pus and, here and there, a broken limb held awkwardly in a crude bandage.

.He doesn’t handle all this on his own? she demanded, turning to Drummond as they drove in through the entrance and braked at the bottom of a flight of stone steps.

He switched off the engine and nodded. Don’t ask me how, but he does. Has an old woman to do the cooking, but that’s all. Here she comes now..

The woman who opened the front door and came out into the porch had the same ageless Mongolian face as the people in the market place, but wore a long cotton skirt and an Indian Army issue khaki sweater with cloth epaulets. The red scarf around her head and gold ear-rings made her look like a gypsy.

Drummond went up the steps with Janet’s two cases, put them down and spoke to her in slow, careful English. He came back down the steps and took Janet’s arm.

‘He’s in the chapel.

They crossed the courtyard to the tiny, grey-stone building, he opened the heavy wooden door and they went inside. The lights were very dim, and down by the altar the candles flickered and the statue of the Holy Mother seemed to float out of the darkness.

Father Terence Kerrigan knelt in prayer, his rugged, stubborn old Irish face momentarily relaxed, almost childlike in its purity, his white hair gleaming like silver. When he crossed himself and got to his feet, she saw that he was a big man, built like a tree with shoulders as wide as Hamld’s.

He turned, narrowing his eyes short-sightedly when he saw them there la the shadows and came forward’ with a ready smile.

‘Jack, is it yourself, and this will be Miss Tate?’ He took her hands in his, holding them tightly. ‘It’s good to see you here, my dear. I got word from Colonel Dil that you were coming in today. He bad a message last night from AH Hamid over the radio.’

1 feel like a fraud, Father/ she said. ‘I believe you were expecting a doctor.’

‘Nonsense, my dear, a qualified nursing sister with two years’ experience in Vietnam fefugee camps will do for me any day of the week.’ He chuckled at her astonishment, ‘Major Hamid is always most thorough.’

They crossed the courtyard, mounted the steps and went inside. The entrance hall had been turned into a dispensary, the stone walls whitewashed, drugs, medicines and equipment neatly arranged on white-painted shelves giving an overall impression of cleanliness and efficiency.

‘This is where most of the work is done and as I’m the only qualified doctor in Balpur the pace is usually fast and furious.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘You’ll see for yourself in precisely fifteen minutes.’

‘What about my patient?’ Janet asked.

‘Kerim?. the old man sighed. ‘Frankly, he’s aot been too marvellous. He’s been staying here, of course, so that I can give him constant supervision. The Elian wanted me to take up residence at the palace, but naturally, I had to refuse. As I pointed out, I do have-other patients.’

‘And how is Kerim now?

‘Rather better. He’s been very feverish, but we seem to be over the worst of that now. In any event, I think we should wait for a few days before contemplating such a long journey.’

‘So Janet stays here?’ Drummond said.

‘If she can put up with a crotchety old fool.’ Father Kerrigan smiled. ‘Would you like to take a peep at Kerim?’

He led the way through into a narrow whitewashed

€0 passage and opened a door on the left. The boy looked very frail as he slept, head turned to one side on the white pillow, a heavy bandage crossing his left eye and they withdrew softly.

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Categories: Higgins, Jack