A CORPORAL and three privates walked forward slowly, curiosity written on their faces, and behind them, kgging slightly, Ms left arm heavily bandaged, came Tony Brackenhurst.
4We didn’t expect to see any of you again,’ Father Kerrigan said. The Chinese arrived so quickly that we only got out of the mission by the skin of our teeth. I drove up-river to Quala and found that the headman had already had the vehicle ferry destroyed to prevent the Chinese crossing the river with transport. Everyone in the village was being ferried over by small boats in relays.’
‘Mr. Brackenhurst arrived while we were waiting our turn,’ Janet continued. ‘He was pretty badly burned. He told us what happened at Sadar. He thought he was the only one to get away..
‘So he was for a while,’ Hamid replied calmly.
Brackenhurst looked very pale and swayed slightly, groping for the side of the truck to steady himself. Two of the soldiers moved to catch him and Father Kerrigan said, ‘I think you ought to lie down again, my boy, you don’t look too good. Will you see to him, Janet?.
Brackenhurst stumbled away between the two privates, Janet walking beside them, and the priest turned back to the others.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever had a greater surprise in my life than I did ten minutes ago when this tribesman here emerged from the mist and turned out to be Sher Dii.’
‘I arrived on foot about four hours ago,’ Sher D3 said, ‘When I told the villagers what was happening, they decided to move into the mountains while they still could. They wanted me to go with them, but I’d told Drummond and Major Hamid to meet here if they managed to get across the river.’ He grinned. ‘I was beginning to think you weren’t going to make it.’
‘We very nearly didn’t,’ Hamid said. ‘They insisted on our staying for a while. You’ll be interested to know, by the way, that friend Cheung is an Intelligence Colonel.
‘God bless my soul,’ Father Kerrigan said. ‘Are you sure about this?.
‘We’ve the best of reasons for knowing, Father,’ Drummond said. ‘How’s Kerim?’
Taking it all surprisingly well. Of course, he’s not had. things too bad as yet After crossing the river we were in an ox cart for nine or ten miles, but then we met the convoy. As soon as Corporal Nadin heard our Story, he turned round at once. He didn’t have much choice. He couldn’t have gone any further..
‘Does he know about his father’s death?’
.So it’s certain? Brackenhurst seemed to think so, but I kept hoping he might have been mistaken.’ Father Kerrigan sighed. ‘No, I’ve told the boy nothing. Later, perhaps, when we’re safe across the border.’
‘If we can get there, Father. A debatable point at the moment’
Ahmed splashed towards them through the rain, two tin mugs in each hand. Tea, Colonel?’
‘So, you survived, you rogue?’ Sher Dfl said in mock anger. ‘Am I never to be rid of you?.
.As Allah wills, Colonel.’
Ahmed grinned impudently. He wore brand new leather combat boots and a quilted khaki parka of the kind specially issued for winter warfare, the fur-lined hood pulled up over his head,
‘Where did you get the clothes?’ Drummond asked.
‘One of the tracks was carrying general equipment for the army, sahib. There is still some left although we unloaded most of it back there on the road to make room for the women and children.’
‘Women and children?’
‘Refugees we found on the road. We could not leave them for the Chinese.’
Tell Corporal Nadin to bring me a map,’ Sher Dil said.
They squatted on the verandah of the nearest house to drink their tea and Nadin, a thin, sinewy Indian with a brown face and long black moustache, brought the map.
Sher Dil unfolded if Three hundred mfles to the Indian border and one road out-this one. The usual way to cross the river with transport was by the ferry at Quala, but according to Father Kerrigan, the villagers have burned it’
‘It might be possible to cross in the shallows at Kama,’ Drummond said. ‘Especially with half-tracks, and they’ve got those.’