The priest opened the opposite door and ushered her into a small room, simply furnished with a narrow bed and wooden locker. The one touch of luxury was a large sheepskin rag on the floor. A french window opened on to a verandah overlooking an overgrown and neglected garden.
“The best I can do, I’m afraid,’ he said apologetically.
‘A palace compared to what I was used to in, Vietnam.’
They returned to the dispensary and found Drum-mond standing at the door looking outside. The courtyard had filled with people, all squatting together in the dust, waiting patiently for the old priest to begin.
He took out his watch again and pursed his lips. ‘Five minutes late. This will never do. I’ll have to say goodbye for now, Jack. We’ll be seeing you tonight at the palace, I imagine.’
‘I expect so.’
Drummond turned to Janet, but she was touching Father Kerrigan on the arm as he moved away. ‘Could I help, Father?’
The old man looked down at her searchingly and then a slow smile broke across his face. Td be glad to have you, my dear. I’ll find you a robe.’
She nodded briefly to Drummond. ‘See you tonight, Jack.’
She turned away, different now, holding herself straighter, competent, assured. She and the old man stood at the back of the dispensary, talking as she pulled on the white robe he had found for her, a strange intimacy between them.
Drummond turned abruptly, pushed his way through flie crowd, climbed into the jeep and drove quickly away.
Dinner at the Palace
THROUGH the French windows, the white balustrade of the terrace shimmered palely and the tall cypress trees were silhouetted against the evening sky. From the garden came the timeless, incessant chirping of the crickets.
Inside, the soft lamplight gleamed oa delicate crystal decanters and silver and gold tableware, and the great ruby in the centre of the Khan’s turban glowed dimly like an ember stirred by a soft wind.
He was seventy years of age, but carried himself well In his London tailored mohair and silk dinner jacket, and the face beneath the turban was still that of a warrior, proud and strong wife the touch of arrogance of one bom to rule.
He sat at the head of the table, Janet Tate on Ms left, and he turned to her with a smile, speaking in careful, precise English. ‘More brandy, Miss Tate?’
‘I don’t think so, thank you.’
“A little more coffee, then?.
He snapped a finger and a servant came forward quickly. There were five of them at the table besides tiie Khan, Janet, supremely beautiful in her simple
€2 black silk dress, and Jack Drummond on her left in a white dinner jacket. Father Kerrigan sat on the Khan’s right hand next to Mr. Cheung, and Hamid and Colonel Sher Dil, commander of the Khan’s small army, faced each other, magnificent in dress uniform.
‘Father Kerrigan has made you comfortable, Miss Tate?’ the Khan asked.
‘He couldn’t have done more.’
The Khan sighed. ‘It would have pleased me to have had you as my guest here at the palace, but he is a stubborn old man.’
‘And if that’s true, then I know another sot a thousand miles from here,’ the priest said, speaking with the familiarity of an old friend and reaching for the brandy decanter. ‘Would you imagine it, Janet, he wanted me to forsake every other blessed patient I have, close the mission and move in here?’
The Khan shrugged helplessly. ‘What can one do? He even refused the soldiers I sent At this moment, who guards the Hope cf BalptnT he challenged the old priest
Tell me first who in Balpur would harm him,’ Father Kerrigan countered.
The Khan sighed. ‘You see, Miss Tate, I am not even ruler in my own house.’
‘If you must know, old Nerida’s sitting at the boy’s bedside this very moment,’ Father Kerrigan told him. ‘She’d cut off her arm rather than move from that spot before I return.’
“You have seen Keriia today?’ the Khan said to Janet ‘He is well?’
She nodded. ‘But still a little weak. An injury of this kind is a great shock to the whole system, especially for a child,’