Jack Higgins – The Savage Day

He laughed suddenly, much more his old self again. ‘By God, Major, but there are times when I think you’re very probably the Devil himself.’

I opened the rear door and pulled the young corporal

up and out into the open. He seemed unsteady on his feet, the skin around the swollen nose and eyes blackening into bruises. I sat him down carefully on the convent steps.

Binnie said, ‘What are we going to do with him?’

‘Leave him here. By the time the nuns have patched him up and fed him and reported his presence to the Garda, it’ll be evening. He can’t do us any harm, but if we’re going, we’ve got to go now.’

The nun on the gates had got them open. As we drove through I called, ‘We’ve left you another patient back there on the steps, Sister. Tell Sister Teresa I’m sorry.’

Her mouth opened as if she was trying to say something, but by then it was too late and we were out into the road and away. Five minutes later we bumped over the farm track that took us into Ulster and turned along the road to Strabane.

The streets of Strabane were jammed with traffic and there seemed to be road blocks everywhere, which was pretty much what I had expected. The authorities must have known for some considerable time that we were not in the wreckage of that burned-out Cortina at the bottom of the ravine.

Getting through proved unbelievably easy for the obvious reason that there were soldiers everywhere and we were just two more. I told Binnie to simply bkst his way through, which he did, on several occasions taking to the pavement to get past lines of cars and trucks waiting their turn.

At every check point we came to we were waved on without the slightest hesitation, and within ten minutes of entering the town we were clear again and moving along the main road to Londonderry.

Binnie was like some kid out for the day, excitement and laughter bubbling out of him. ‘I’d say they were looking for somebody back there, wouldn’t you, Major ?’

‘So it would seem.’

‘That’s the bloody British Army for you.’ He snapped his fingers and took us down the centre of the road, overtaking everything in sight.

I said mildly, ‘Not so much of the bloody, Binnie. I used to be a part of it, remember.’

He glanced at me, surprise on his face as if he had genuinely forgotten, and then he laughed out loud. ‘But not now, Major. Now, you’re one of us. Christ, but you’ll be taking the oath next. It’s all that’s needed.’

He started to sing theSoldier’s Song at the top of his voice, hardly the most appropriate of choices considering he was wearing a British uniform, and concentrated on his driving. I lit a cigarette and sat back, the Sterling across my knees.

I wondered what kind efface he’d show me at that final, fatal moment when, as they used to say in the old melodramas, all was revealed ? He would very probably make me kill him, if only to save my own skin, something I very definitely did not want to do.

Binnie and I had come a long way since that first night in Cohan’s Select Bar in Belfast and I’d learned one very important thing. The IRA didn’t just consist of bomb-happy Provos and Frank Barry and company. There were genuine idealists there also in the Pearse and Connolly tradition. Always would be. People like the Small Man, God rest him, and Binnie Gallagher.

Whether one agreed with them or not, they were honest men who believed passionately that they were engaged in a struggle for which the stake was nothing less than the freedom of their country.

They would lay down thek lives if necessary, they would kill soldiers, but not children – never that. Whatever happened, they wanted to be able to face it with clean hands and a little honour. Their tragedy was that in this kind of war that just was not possible.

Frank Barry, of course, was a different proposition altogether, which brought me right back to the Brigadier and Norah Murphy and the present situation at Spanish Head.

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