Sher Dil nodded. ‘If we can make forty miles TH be satisfied. We’ll camp at the side of the road and push on at dawn.’
He slammed the door, and Ahmed pressed the starter. After several moments and a liberal use of the choke, the engine rumbled into life. The truck in front of them lurched forward and he eased off the handbrake and followed.
There was a warm smell of petrol and oil in the cab and rain splashed against the windscreen. Suddenly, Drummond had that same feeling of temporary security and safety he’d known in the herdsman’s hut after they’d got across the river. He leaned back in his seat, laid the sub-machine gun across his knees and started to clean the grease from it with a piece of rag.
As the sound of the track engines faded into the mist and rain, Piroo and Yussuf scrambled up from the stream bed and stood in the rain listening.
As the last echo died away, Piroo nodded in satisfaction. ‘Good, they have gone. Sher Dil was very angry.’
‘No matter,’ Yussuf replied. ‘His day is done.. He looked up at the smoke rising from the headman’s house. There is still a fire on the hearth. We will stay here for the night We can move on in the morning;.
They went up the steps to the verandah, opened the heavy door and went inside leaving the street empty again: Rain hammered into the mud, mist enfolded the silent houses and the village waited as night fell.
The truck rocked violently as it ground its way along the muddy, pot-holed road and Drummond leaned forward, straining his eyes into the swirling mist.
The truck in front stopped suddenly and Ahmed stamped his foot on the brake. Drummond opened the door, sub-machine gun ready, and Sher Dil appeared.
‘We’ve bogged down. You’ll have to lend a hand.’
Drummond and Ahmed tramped through the mud to the front truck. Its offside wheel was deep in a water-filled pothole and Nadin and Hamid were already busy with spades.
It took twenty minutes of hard work on the part of everybody to get it moving. When Drummond climbed back into his seat, he was plastered with mud to the knees and his fine new parka looked as if it had been through a hard campaign. Half an hour later, the whole performance had to be repeated.
When he settled.himself back in Ms seat for the second time he was past feeling anything. His feet were numb, his hands raw and bleeding from handling the rocks and stones which had gone to fill the potholes.
Visibility was bad now and he began to feel very tired as he strained Ms eyes through the gathering gloom. The front truck’s horn sounded once and as the convoy slowed, he was aware of scattered pine trees on the left
Ahmed turned off the road and followed the dimly-seen tail of the truck in front and there was a sudden stillness as all engines were cut.
THE camp site Sher Dil had chosen was a rocky fiat, thinly scattered with pine trees that gave them some sort of a screen from the road.
When Drummond walked up the line, Hamid, Sher Dil and Father Kerrigan were standing at the rear of
(he second truck talking in low voices. Janet leaned over the tailboard.
‘We’ve decided we don’t need to worry too much about a blackout in this mist,’ Sher Dil said. ‘We’ll set up one of the oil stoves in the back of the supply truck. Miss Tate can cook in there away from the rain. The refugees can do the same. There’s plenty of food to go round.’
‘A good hot meal should go a long way towards raising everyone’s spirits,’ Father Kerrigan said.
Drummond nodded. ‘What about the boy?’
‘He’ll be all right. I’ve kept him under strong sedation so far.’
‘What about sleeping arrangements?’ Hamid asked.
“In the trucks. We’ll need a guard, of course. Two at a time. One here, the other at the roadside. I’ll work out a rota after we’ve eaten.’
Sher Dil moved away and Father Kerrigan smiled up at Janet ‘Hand me my bag, my dear. I’d better have a look at Brackenhurst.’