The houses loomed out of the mist There were no more than six of them, poor, mean places of mud and wattle like the herdsman’s hut scattered alongside the banks of a small stream.
They went forward quickly and Drommond was aware of the acrid smell of woodsmoke on the damp air. Ahmed opened the first door and went in. He reappeared a moment later.
‘Empty, sahib, everything gone.’
He ran along the line of huts, opening the crude, wooden doors and finally came back to meet them despondently. ‘Picked clean, sahib. Picked clean.’
Hamid looked in through the door of the nearest house at the embers of the fire which still glowed on the hearth. ‘I said bad news travels fast, didn’t I? They’ve gone, every last one of them. Horses, livestock, the lot
Taken to the hills I suppose, to wait things out and see what happens.’
Ahmed looked at them enquiringly..We move on now? Nothing for us here.’
That’s right, Ahmed,’ Drummond said. ‘Nothing for us here.’
They moved up out of the hollow and started to march again. The rain-soaked earth made the going very heavy and the ground itself was boulder-strewn and very difficult so that they had to pick their way with care.
Gradually a change became noticeable. The air seemed colder and drifted steadily into their faces and the ground began to slope steeply. They paused to take stock of the situation.
‘We must be coming to the edge of the rift valley,’ Hamid said. ‘And that means the road can’t be far away. We should cut across it in another mile or so.’
They started to make their way down the hillside. The ground began to fall away until at times, they were compelled to climb very carefully, feeling for handholds.
Finally, they found themselves on the lower slopes and the going was easier over rough, moss-covered ground. Ahmed moved ahead again and was soon lost to sight, for as they descended through the rain, the mist became thicker until visibility was almost nil.
It was Drummond who heard the motor. He stopped quickly and called to Hamid. They both stood there on the hillside listening and heard the sound of truck engines.
Ahmed came running out of the mist. ‘Bandong just below in the valley, sahib,’ he said to Hamid. ‘Four trucks stopping there. Big ones, sahib, I think they are ours.’
‘What do you mean, ours?’ Drummond said.
‘Army trucks, sahib. Convoy from India making its way to Sadar.’
‘He’s right,’ Drummond said. Td forgotten about that. Don’t they make the run once a month?’
‘Only one difficulty,’ Hamid said. ‘If it is the usual convoy to Sadar, then it’s going in the wrong direction.’
.Not if they’d heard what’s happened.’
They covered the rest of the distance quickly, running and sliding down the slippery slopes until they came to a boulder-filled stream bed. On the other side they scrambled up on to a dirt road, and Ahmed motioned them to silence as a flat-roofed house loomed out of the mist
‘Bandong,’ he whispered.
The truck engines had stopped and the whole world seemed to have died with them. A vague unease stirred in Drummond and then he heard the voice, the rough, familiar Irish, voice, and ran forward between the houses scattered on either side of the road.
Four trucks were drawn up in a line, old Bedford three-tenners, pointing south towards India. Father Kerrigan stood bareheaded in the rain talking to a tribesman in sheepskin coat and fur hat who held an old.303 Enfield rifle in one hand and the bridle of a rough hill pony in the other.
A stone rattled under Drummond’s foot and they swung round. The hiHman was Colonel Sher DiL
“Well, praise be,. Father Kerrigan said softly.
The door of one of the trucks opened and Janet Tate dropped to the ground. She was wearing the same clothes she had worn on the flight in, fur lined boots, cord pants and the sheepskin jacket Drummond had provided for her, but he didn’t really notice these things. Only her eyes and the deep incredulous joy in them as she ran towards him.
Council of War