She turned, stumbling against Hamid, and beyond him in the water something turned over in the shallows, a rotting body, arms trailing, a grey headed gull swooping down, beak poised to strike.
There was immediate concern oa Ms face, and unconsciously he used her first name. ‘Janet, what is it?’
The smell,’ she said..Burning flesh. I was In a village called NonMng north of Saigon last year. The Viet Cong made one cf their night raids and set fire to the hospital.’ She stared back into the past, horror on her face. The patients, we could only get half of them out There are nights when I can still hear the screams.’
She was aware of his hand under her arm and they were climbing rapidly up the bank, across a narrow Stone causeway. Suddenly, they moved into a different world, a place of colour and light, scarlet hibiscus and graceful palms.
They walked through trees along a. narrow path and emerged oa to a stone, loopholed terrace high above the river, a couple of ancient iron cannon still at their stations as they had been for three hundred years.
Hainid pushed her gently forward. ‘And behold, said the genie…’
She gave an excited gasp and leaned across the waH. Between the sandbanks, hundreds of flamingoes paced through the shallows, setting the very air alight with the glory of their plumage. Hamid picked up a stone and tossed it down, and immediately the sky was filled with the heavy, pulsating beat of their wings as they lifted In & shimmering cloud.
He looked down at her gravely. ‘Back there, death, Janet Here, life in all its magnificence. They are both sides of the same coin. This you must learn.’
She nodded slowly and slipped her hand into his arm. Together, they walked back quietly through the trees without speaking.
Beyond the old quarter of the town, Drummond moved into an area of stately walled villas and beautiful gardens, the homes of rich merchants and government officials. A narrow path, fringed with eucalyptus trees, brought him to the river bank again.
A red houseboat was moored at the end of an old stone wharf about forty yards away and Ferguson’s Sikh bearer squatted on the cabin roof. When he saw Drummond, he scrambled to the deck and disappeared below.
Drummond crossed the narrow gangway and stepped on to the deck which had been scrubbed to a dazzling whiteness. Several cane chairs and a table were grouped under an awning at the stern and as he sat down, the Sikh appeared with a tray containing a bottle of gin, ice-water and glasses. He placed the tray on the table and withdrew without speaking.
Drummond helped himself to a drink and walked to the stern rail, staring out across the river and thinking about Janet Tate, as a boat slipped by, sail bellying in the breeze.
There was a clink of a bottle against glass and when he turned, Ferguson was sitting at the table, pouring himself a drink.
‘You’re looking fit, Jack. Nothing like a steam bath to pull a man round after a hard night’
‘Hullo, Fergy, you old rogue,’ Drummond said. ‘I got your message. It was delivered in person at Ram
Singh’s House of Pleasure by a rather delectable little Quaker girl in a yellow dress..
‘God in heaven,’ Ferguson said, astonishment on, his face. ‘She didn’t, did she?’
Tm afraid so.’ Drummond sat down and took a cheroot from an old leather case. ‘Her first visit to India, apparently. She’s a lot to learn.’
‘I found her travelling from Calcutta second class,’ Ferguson said. ‘Can you imagine that? What’s all this about the Khan’s son needing eye surgery?’
The boy fell from his horse a month ago and took a nasty knock. The sight started to fail in the right eye, so the old man had me fly a specialist up from Calcutta. He’s got a detached retina and his balance has been affected..
Tricky surgery to put that right..
‘It seems the big expert’s on the staff of some Quaker foundation hospital in Chicago. Father Kerrigan got in touch with them and they agreed to take the case. Said they’d send a doctor to escort the boy.’