Brackenhurst was already hurrying back across the bridge and Nadin stood rooted to the spot, dismay in his eyes. Sher Dil tossed him a coil of fuse wire which the Indian almost dropped.
‘Pull yourself together, Corporal,’ the colonel snapped. ‘The sooner we get this set up, the sooner we can get out.’
At the top of the hill, Drummond turned and looked down. The bridge and the truck seemed like toys and the whole scene had an unreal, fake look.
Hamid came up the hill carrying Sher Oil’s binoculars. He sat on a boulder and adjusted them until the truck and the bridge jumped sharply into focus.
‘How are they doing?’ Drummond asked.
‘He’s laying the charges. I must say Nadin doesn’t look too happy. Neither does Amal.’
They’re both scared to death. I think that’s why Sher Dil made them stay.’
Below on the bridge, they worked rapidly. Nadin running the fuse wire to the far end. He walked back towards the colonel, paused and pointed dramatically. His cry rose thin and clear in the rain.
As a Chinese troop carrier came over the crest of the hill on the other side of the ravine, Hamid focussed the binoculars quickly and the face of the officer standing upright beside the driver jumped out to meet him.
As the troop carrier started the descent, Drammond said, They haven’t got time to blow the bridge now. We’d better get moving.’
‘In the troop carrier, they would catch us within five minutes,’ Hamid said calmly. ‘Sher Dil knows that. He will blow the bridge. He will do it for the young Khan.’
Drummond turned to watch the drama being enacted below, saw Sher Dil take a step towards the charges and knew with cold certainty that Hamid was right, that he intended to blow the bridge even if it meant going up with it
Amal seemed rooted to the ground, but Nadin rushed at him in complete panic, clawing at his shoulder. Sher Dil knocked him down with a blow of his fist and turned again to the charges. Nadin scrambled to his feet, wrenched the truck’s spade from its fastenings near the door and struck Sher Dil on the head with all his force.
He turned and jumped into the cab. The track moved forward and stalled and Amal, seizing bis chance, scrambled over the tailboard. Sher Dil managed to reach his knees. He took a grenade from one of his pockets, pulled out the pin and tossed it towards the stacked boxes.
At that moment, the truck lurched forward. It had moved perhaps ten yards when the centre of the bridge erupted in a cloud of smoke. Pieces of stone girder lifted skywards as a series of violent explosions sounded one after the other and then the entire middle section of the bridge fell in, the truck slipped back into the gaping chasm and disappeared.
The troop carrier had slewed to a halt on the other side and now its heavy machine gun opened up, firing blindly through the pall of smoke, bullets ripping up earth and stone on the hilltop beside the trucks.
Brackenhurst was already behind the wheel of Amal’s track, lurching down the road to a chorus of terrified screaming from the women and children in the back.
There was no time to talk. Hamid scrambled up behind Father Kerrigan and drove away quickly and Drummond and Ahmed followed in the supply truck. For a heart-stopping moment, bullets ripped through the canvas hood and then they were over the hill.
Ten minutes later, Hamid sounded his horn, Brackenhurst slowed, turning in to the side of the road and Ahmed and Drummond pulled in ahead of him.
Drummond jumped down to join the Pathan and Brackenhurst stumbled towards them, his eyes wild..What do we do now, for Christ’s sake?’
Hamid ignored him and held up Sher Dil’s map. ‘He left this in the cab, that’s one good thing.’ They leaned over’ it and he nodded. ‘I thought so. There’s another village fifteen miles further on and the border, fifty miles beyond that.’
‘One thing’s certain,’ Drummond said. ‘Cheung can’t hope to catch us now.’
Hamid nodded. ‘As long as there’s no one waiting at the next village we should be all right.