Drummond sucked a piece of ice, delighting in the coolness of it as it melted in his mouth and trickled down his throat and hobbled along in a strange, trance-like mood.
It was with a sense of shock that he found himself lying in the snow, the taste of it cold in his mouth and then a foot dug into his side and he heard Hamid’s dead, washed-out voice.
.Get up, Jack. I haven’t the strength to lift you..
He turned away and Drummond with a supreme effort got to his feet and went after him. He bowed his head and placed one foot in front of the other. He repeated that simple action until he had lost count of time and suddenly heard a shout in front
Hamid had stopped on top of a slight rise twenty or thirty yards away and called to him in a strange, cracked voice. Drummond broke into a stumbling run and reached the top of the rise in time to see Hamid staggering down towards the camp in the hollow below. There were field guns deeply entrenched, supply trucks parked at the rear and a sprinkling of snow-covered huts.
Men were flooding forward, men in familiar uniforms and khaki turbans, some riding supply mules. They reached Hamid and Drummond saw him hand the boy carefully to a great, bearded Sikh. He turned, looked back at Drummond, took a single hesitant step and fell on his face in the mow.
Drommond slid to the ground and sat there, tears rolling down Ms cracked cheeks as the soldiers moved towards him,
It was warm in the hut and he sat before the stove, a blanket round his shoulders and sipped hot tea slowly, holding the mug in both hands. After a while, the door to the other room opened and a young Bengali medical corps sergeant came in.
‘How is he?’ Drummond asked.
Tine,’ the sergeant said. ‘He’s fallen asleep now, quite exhausted.’
‘And the boy?’
‘Having a meal in the officers’ mess, such as it is.’ The sergeant laughed. There’s nothing wrong with that one. He seems to have enjoyed himself, if anything, during the past few days. More brandy?’
Drummond nodded and held out his mug. ‘How much longer will your commanding officer be?’
‘He shouldn’t be long now. The main command post is only three miles away, but since the snow, of course, we’re having to use mules.’
The door swung open, a cold wind whistling round the room and young Lieutenant Singh entered. ‘Major Naru’s coming now, Mr. Drummond.”
Thank God for that.’
Drummond got to his feet and hobbled to the window in time to see the major and an escort of two privates ride up on mules. They dismounted and the major came up the steps to the hut, brushing snow from his parka with both hands.
Lieutenant Singh opened the door for him and he came in and moved straight to the fire, a tall, handsome man with a clipped moustache.
‘Mr. Drammond?’ He pulled off Ms gloves and held out a hand. ‘A pleasure to see you here, sir.’
‘Believe me, it’s a pleasure to be here, Major,’ Drum-mond said. ‘Did Lieutenant Singh give you the whole story?’
The major nodded. ‘We spoke over the field telephone. Where is Major Harold?’
.Asleep in the other room. He’s done the work of ten men during the past few days.’
‘And the young Khan?’
‘We’re looking after him in the officers’ mess, sir,’ Lieutenant Singh put in.
‘What about my friends, Major?’ Drummond said..When can we make a start? I wanted to return with men and mules straight away,, but the lieutenant said he couldn’t move without the good word from you..
Major Naru sighed. Tm afraid it’s rather more.com.-plicated than that. The Chinese invasion of Balpur is something my government must handle with the greatest care. An emergency session has already started at the United Nations. Under these circumstances, all units on the border have been ordered to avoid any confrontation with Chinese units at whatever the cost. It would be impossible for me to even-consider sending a patrol into Balpur territory.’
‘But that hut’s no more than five miles from here,’ Drummond said. ‘With mules, we could be there in less than an hour and time is vital. As I explained to Lieutenant Singh, Colonel Cheung could beat us to the punch.’