When Cheung scrambled up the steep bank from the river’s edge, he found General Ho Tsen still sitting in the front of the jeep, a cigarette in a long jade holder between his teeth.
‘Well?’ the General demanded.
Cheung seemed tired. ‘As yet there is no sign of them, General.’
‘A small subterfuge which often leads to remarkable results,’ said Ho Tsea. ‘Wasn’t tliat what you promised msT
Cheung wiped rain from his face mechanically. ‘What can I say?’
‘Nothing,’ Ho Tsen told him. That would be much better. As it happens, in such weather it is more than likely that Drummond and his friend are akeady floating face down somewhere out there in the flood. In any case, I shall take charge here, Colonel. Take your men and go north to Kama. Cross the river and bring me back the young Khan.’ He paused and neatly ejected the end of his cigarette from the holder. When he looked up again, his eyes were cold. ‘Without him, there would be little point in returning at all. You follow me?’
Cheuag stood there in the rain, staring at him for a moment, his face quite white. He seemed to pull himself together, saluted, turned and clambered up beside the driver of the first troop carrier. A moment later, the two vehicles moved up the slope, their tracks spurning file wet earth and disappeared into the mist
VAGUELY through his numbed mind, Drummond became aware that something was digging into him. After a while, he realised that another large tree had drifted into them. They floated together, branches intertwined, their combined weight considerably slowing down the speed at which they were travelling,
Hamid was still secure in Ms perch amongst the branches and after a while he called, 1 can see the other side. The river must be narrowing.’
Drummond turned his head. Through the torrential rain, the opposite bank was just visible and it seemed to draw nearer every moment. The water became rougher and trees and flotsam of every description raced through the white-capped waves.
Suddenly, the bank was very close and seemed to increase in size as the river churned through a deeper and narrowing channel. There was a sickening, body-shaking jar and the tree grounded.
Drummond heard a cry and saw Hamid flung into the water. He unhooked his cramped limbs and found that he could stand waist deep. He forced his way along, pushed by the current, and caught Hamid by the belt before the river took him. There was a crashing sound behind and, as he turned, the trees were lifted by a sudden swell of the water and swept away again.
The water boiled around them as they braced themselves against the current. Slowly they forced their way to the steeply shelving banks and scrambled to temporary safety. They lay face down, their battered bodies heaving as they retched up river water.
After a while, they got to their feet and clambered up the mud bank away from the river. They stood looking across the river through the mist, listening. Hamid was shaking with cold, his uniform moulded to his body although strangely enough, his turban was still intact
‘Sooner or later they’ll get men across by boat,’ he said. They’re bound to find an odd one or two missed by the refugees.’
‘But they’ll be on foot, just like us,’ Drummond reminded him. The nearest place they have a hope of crossing with vehicles is Kama and that’s twenty miles north from here. The shallows there could well be impassable because of the rain.’
.Well, one thing is certain,’ Hamid said with a savage grin. There’s only one road out to India and there’s only one way we’re going to get to it’
They began to walk south through the rain, slowly, because the ground was fast turning into a quagmire. Drummond found it an effort to lift one foot in front of the other, and after a while found himself falling behind the hardy hiliman.
They moved into a grey impenetrable mist that shrouded them completely from the outside world. Nothing existed now except the two of them and the rain and Drummond stumbled on through the mud, wondering what he was doing here and where it was all going to end.