Jack Higgins – The Iron Tiger

‘I suppose we’re pilgrims in a sense,’ Drummond said. ‘Pilgrims of hope.’

The Abbot smiled. Tve been explaining to Father Kerrigan that the other members of our order here are under a strict vow of silence. Plea.se accept that they mean no discourtesy.”

His English was slightly stilted and technically excellent, but was delivered in the grave, expressionless tons of a man who did not use his voice often.

‘Can we stay here for a while?’ Drummond said.

‘As long as you wish.’

‘Has Father Kerrigan told you that we are being followed by Communist troops?’

The Abbot nodded. ‘Sound travels great distances at this height. We could hear your party coming when you were still crossing the main plateau. There will be ample warning. I will have food sent to you and then blankets. I suggest you all try to get some sleep.’

‘And that’s the most sensible thing I’ve heard ia a long time,’ Drummond said.

‘I shall pray for your continuing good fortune.’

The Abbot left the room. Hot food was brought to them, steaming in a great copper bowl, and afterwards blankets.

Drummond draped one over his shoulders and Hamid spread the map out on the table. ‘Where do we go from here?’

Hamid ran his finger along another valley, following the track over the top and down the other side of the mountain. ‘About fifteen miles to the Indian border from here, that’s all.’

Drummond looked across to where Father Kerrigan and Janet were already asleep in front of the fire wrapped in their blankets, Kerim between them.

‘Do you think they can make it?’

They’ll have to. We don’t have any choice..

He lay down on the floor beside the others, pulling his blanket over his head, and Drummond stayed at the table. It was peaceful, quiet after the storm, the regular breathing of the sleepers rising and falling gently and after a while he rested his head in his arms and slept

He awakened suddenly, yawned and stretched his arms so that the blanket fell from him. As he bent down to retrieve it he became aware that the Abbot was standing just inside the door watching him.

‘How long have I been asleep?’

The Abbot came forward and sat on the bench on the other side of the table. ‘About three hours. It is almost night.’

Drummond glanced across at the others sleeping quietly beside the fire. ‘They’re very tired. They’ve been through a great deal.’

The Abbot nodded and brooded quietly, face expressionless and calm as the firelight played across it. Drummond felt completely rested and wide awake, but his feet pained him and the toes on his right foot were numb and lifeless.

He fumbled half-heartedly with the laces of his com- bat boots, but the knots were swollen and tightened by the constant damp of the past two days and he finally gave up trying.

‘It would interest me to know what you think of my country,” the Abbot said.

‘Frankly, I can’t get out fast enough. Fve seen enough of places like this, smoke rising from burning cities? refugees on the move.’

‘But you came by choice in the first, place, did you not?’

‘I once read somewhere that life is action and passion,’ Drummond said. That if a man failed to take part in it, he wasn’t really living.’

He absentmindedly banged his right foot against the floor in an endeavour to restore the circulation and the Abbot said,.A mistake to take that too literally. It was said by a man who, having experienced the horrors of war, devoted himself to the rule of law for the rest of Ms life.’

The Abbot crossed the floor and opened a pair of large wooden shutters revealing the night and the mountains. Drummond joined him on a small stone terrace.

It was very cold and he pulled his blanket more closely about him and shivered. During the past few days, his body had been alternately wet and frozen so many times, that he was now at a stage where his resistance was at a very low ebb.

Night was beginning to fall, cold and clear with great scatterings of stars, brilliant and luminous, strung away across the peaks. As he looked, it darkened quickly from east to west and the stars were blotted out before his eyes as though someone moved among them quickly, snuffing them out between finger and thumb.

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Categories: Higgins, Jack