‘For God’s sake, get his feet and shut up,’ I said. ‘If you want your precious Small Man to live, you’d better get him where we’re going fast.’
We bundled the corporal into the Land-Rover, putting him on the floor between the front and rear seats. I got into the back with Cork and left the driving to Binnie.
I wasn’t really conscious of the passing of time although I was aware that wherever we were going, we were going there very fast indeed. I was too occupied with keeping Cork as upright as possible, an essential where lung wounds are concerned. I had found the vehicle’s first-aid box easily enough and held a field dressing over the wound tightly in an effort to staunch the bleeding.
Gradually his condition grew worse. All colour had faded from his face, the breathing sounded terrible and there was a kind of gurgling inside his chest as he inhaled, one of the nastiest sounds I have ever heard.
As I say, I was not conscious of the passage of time and yet I realize now that until that moment, I had not spoken a word to Binnie since we had left the scene of the shooting.
Blood trickled from the corner of Cork’s mouth and I said desperately, ‘For God’s sake, Binnie, when do we reach the border. The man’s dying on us.’
‘Hang on to your hat, Major,’ he replied over his shoulder. ‘For the past mile and a half you’ve been inside the Republic.’
The Race North
The convent looked more like a seventeenth-century country house than anything else, which was very probably what it had once been. It was surrounded by a fifteen-foot wall of mellow brick and the main gate was closed.
Binnie braked to a halt, jumped out and pulled on a bell-rope. After a while, a small judas opened and a nun peered out. It was not unknown for British patrols to cross the ill-marked border in error on occasion, which probably explained the expression of shocked amazement on her face at the sight of the uniform.
‘Good heavens, young man, don’t you realize where you are ? You’re in the Irish Republic. Turn round and go back where you came from this instant.’
Tor God’s sake. Sister, will you listen to me ?’ Binnie demanded. ‘We’re not what we seem. We’ve a man near dying in the back here.’
She came through the gate without hesitation and approached the Land-Rover. Binnie ran in front of her and got the rear door open. She looked in and was immediately confronted with the sight of the wounded man held upright in my arms. He chose that exact moment to cough, blood spurting from his mouth.
She turned and ran, picking up her skirts, the gates swung open a moment later, and Binnie drove into the courtyard.
The ante-room was surprisingly well furnished with padded leather club chairs and a selection of magazines laid out on a coffee table. There was a glass partition at one side and I could see into the reception room where they had taken Cork. He lay on a trolley covered with a blanket and four nuns in nursing uniform busied themselves in giving him a blood transfusion, amongst other things.
The door opened and another nun appeared, a tall, plain-looking woman in her forties. The others got out of her way fast and she examined him.
Within a moment or so she was giving orders and Cork was being wheeled out, one nun keeping pace with the trolley, the bottle of blood held high. The one who had examined him turned to glance at us through the glass wall, then followed them out. A moment later, the door opened behind us and she entered.
‘I am Sister Teresa, Mother Superior here.’ Her voice was well-bred, pleasant, more English than Irish. Very definitely someone who had known the better things of
life, and I wondered, in a strange, detached way, what her story was. What had she given up for this ?
There was an edge to her voice when she spoke again, ‘Who are you ?’
Binnie glanced at me briefly, then shrugged. TRA, from across the border.’