‘Do you think they’ll try?’ Father Kerrigan said.
Hamid nodded. Tm afraid so. They want the young Khan, Cheung made that quite plain. A puppet to sit on the throne of Balpur, a mouthpiece for the People’s Republic. As Sher Dil says, there’s only one road out. They’re certain to follow.’
Then we must keep moving. We have a good lead.’
‘Only for a time.. Sher Dil ran his finger along the course of the river. ‘Here, seventy miles south of Sadar is a village called Huma. IT the Chinese get their hands on the boats there, they can put men across..
‘But not vehicles.’
That is true, but see how the river swings to follow the valley. They would be no more than ten to fifteen miles from the road, no distance for active, well-trained troops.’
‘So you think they may try to cut the road ahead of us?’ Drummond said.
Hamid shrugged. ‘I don’t know who their commanding officer is, but thaf s what I’d do if I was in his place.’
Then the sooner we’re on the move, the better.’
Sher DH looked up at the leaden sky. ‘About two hours of daylight left We can go a long way in that time.’
.You don’t think ws should push oa through the night?’
‘On this road?. Hamid laughed harshly. ‘It would be suicide in vehicles like these. Much better to camp at a suitable spot and move on at first light The Chinese won’t have anyone across the river yet, there hasn’t been enough time. We’ll have a good start on them.’
Sher Dil got to his feet and turned to Corporal Nadin. “What about petrol?’
There is plenty, Colonel, enough for all the trucks.’
.Why not dump two and push on in the others?. Drummond said. ‘Plenty of room for all of us if we unload.’
Sher Dil laughed and made a sweeping gesture that took in all four of the Bedfords. ‘Look at them. Twenty years old if they’re a day. They’ve been running since the Burma campaign and it shows.’ He turned to Nadin. ‘How often do they break down?’
The corporal shrugged. ‘All the time, Colonel First one thing and then another.’
That settles it We push on with all four. If one breaks down, we still have three left and so on. One of the damned things is bound to last out to the border. In any case, the ammunition they carry may prove useful.
The three privates had been standing in a little group a yard or two away listening to this conversation and as Corporal Nadin turned to move away, one of them grabbed his sleeve and muttered something quickly.
Sher Dil frowned and stepped down into the mud..What’s going on?’
Nadin turned, indecision on his face. Two of the men, sir, Piroo and Yussuf. They are local men. Their wives are in Sadar. They would rather stay. They do not wish to return to India.’
Only the rush of the rain and the rattle of water in the stream bed on the other side of the village disturbed the silence after he had finished speaking.
Father Kerrigan looked worried and Hamid was quite composed, ready for anything. When Drummond glanced quickly at Sher Dil, the colonel’s face had turned pale with anger and lie eyes blazed fire.
‘For a soldier who disobeys an order in the face of the enemy, there can be only one punishment’ He un-slung the old Lee Enfield rifle and rammed home a round, the bolt making an audible click. ‘Is that understood?’
The two men in question looked scared to death. Sher Dil slung the rifle over his shoulder again. ‘Right, Corporal Nadin. Prepare to move out.
Nadin and the three privates hurried away and Father Kerrigan heaved a sigh of relief. ‘You almost frightened me.’
‘A bad business/ Hamid said. ‘Once it starts, you can never tell where it’s going to end.’
Sher Dil nodded. ‘We’ve wasted enough time. Get what you need in the way of arms and so on and we’ll move out.
The refugees, a dozen women and five children, huddled together in the shadows at the back of the truck, clutching the pathetic bundles which contained theur worldly possessions.