Drummond stood there, indecision on his face and Janet said quietly, ‘He’s right, Jack, it’s the only plan that makes any sense. I’ll stay here with Father Kerrigan.’
‘Now just wait a minute…’ Drummond began.
She shook her head, her face grave. Tm staying,
Jack, he needs me, but you must take Kerim with you.
‘But why, for God’s sake?’ Drummond demanded. ‘We’ll be coming back for all of you.’
‘You may not be in time.’
She stood before him, arms hanging straight at her sides, calm and determined, her eyes very tired, and then she smiled and there was all the love in the world there for him.
‘Hurry back, Jack! Hurry back!’
He reached blindly for her and Hamid took him firmly by the arm. ‘We’re wasting time, Jack.’
Drummond turned and stumbled to the door and Hamid offered her the rifle. TH leave you this/
She shook her head. ‘I couldn’t use it, Ali,’ shs said simply.
Hamid stood there for a moment, a frown oa Ms face and then he slung the rifle over his back and went round the fire to where Kerim slept beside the old priest, swathed in his blankets.
He picked the boy up gently, cradling him la his arms and Father Kerrigan smiled. Td take it as a personal favour if you’d run all the way, Major.’
Hamid turned and went out, the lump that rose in his throat threatening to choke him. Drummond was waiting outside and the Pathan walked past him without speaking, the boy held close to his chest.
Drummond stumbled after him. On the rim of the hollow he paused to look back at the hut. Janet was standing in the entrance. She gazed towards him for a long moment and then went back inside. The door closed with a strange finality and Drummond turned and went down the slope after Hamid.
Progress was slow at first for on the upper slopes, sheltered by a shoulder of the mountain, the snow had not been swept away and had fallen in a deep blanket that made walking difficult.
Drummond soon realised how weak he was. They had not covered a mile before he was gritting his teeth and placing one foot in front of the other with a dogged persistence. Hamid seemed tireless and ploughed ahead through the snow without faltering, but his face, when they rested in the lee of a large boulder, told another story.
Kerim’s single eye over the edge of the blanket was round with wonder and Hamid laughed. ‘I wonder how much of this he’ll remember in the years to come?’
‘God knows,’ Drummond said hoarsely..Here, give him to me. I’ll take him for a while.’
Hamid didn’t even try to argue, a bad sign, and they started to walk.again. The boy seemed heavy, which was a strange thing, and Drummond held him close and leaned well back as he went down the slope.
Another mile and his legs were trembling and when he tried to take another pace forward, he overbalanced and rolled over and over down the mountainside.
He held on tight to the boy and the world spun and red sparks flashed before his eyes. Faintly, through a great roaring, he heard Hamid calling to him aad he came to rest in a great drift of snow.
The boy was crying and Hamid picked him up and brushed snow from his face as Drummond got painfully to his feet. Hamid’s eyes seemed to have receded into their sockets, and lines of fatigue were etched deeply into his face, They didn’t speak- there was nothing to say. He started to march, the boy against his chest and Drummond followed.
Time no longer had any significance for Drummond. He placed oae foot doggedly in front of the other, and after a while they left the slopes and struggled over a flat plain of deep snow. Half-way across, they had to rest, completely exhausted.
Darkness had fled across the mountains and day had dawned, grey and sullen, more snow threatening in the heavy clouds as they finally struggled out of the deep snow and entered a thinly wooded stretch that sloped down to the valley bottom.