Excerpt from Chapter 20
The path was
largely dry, leaving no footprints, and they could follow it easily as
it climbed the side of the valley and began to loop in switchbacks up
the steep mountain flank. Laila was bearing up well, and it was
Henshall who slipped occasionally now, or caught his hair in
overhanging foliage, but he refused to slacken his pace, looking
continually at his watch and pulling a face at their progress.
‘Certainly taking time.’
‘Laila need food.’
‘There’s nothing to shoot here, and no fire to cook it. Besides, I
don’t think we want to advertise our whereabouts.’
The woman nodded, and after a ten-minute stop they started off again.
Two miles on, the path began to level out, but the mountains still
towered above them. The slopes steepened, and there were sections of
bare rock, collecting sometimes into short cliffs and gullies, but the
path was dry and not slippery, a border of shrubs and rattan protecting
them from the adjoining drop. Occasionally they stopped, and could see
far below them the river twist and foam in its bouldery course. The
afternoon was almost spent now, and great shadows filled the gorge,
adding to the gloom of the place. But the two still pressed on until
the path ended in a sheet of water.
‘That’s it for today,’ said Henshall. ‘We’ll find a place to sleep.’
They walked back and found a small thicket where, half supported by the
dead foliage, they lay down and tried to sleep. Henshall’s arm
throbbed, and all his joints ached and protested, but he slept, some of
the night, though the dawn took forever to arrive. Whether Laila had
slept he didn’t know, but she was wide-awake at first light when they
left to reconnoitre the fall.
It seemed unlikely the path went under, but there was no hint of a
sidetrack. The two ventured to the water’s edge, and Henshall breasted
the untidy curtain of water and slipped in. There was a cavern behind
the fall, he told Laila, and the two made their way past the corrugated
sheet of water. Once through to the far side they were out into the
morning air and again climbing the spray-drenched path that scaled the
far side of the gorge. In places they were only two hundred yards from
the previous day’s route, and it was overlooking this, at one of their
half-hourly stops, that Laila drew Henshall’s attention to the movement
opposite. They counted four soldiers, and what was probably a guide in
front. ‘Three hours’, said Henshall grimly, when they were safely past.
‘That’s all the head start we have now.’
‘Ah so’, said the woman, and got immediately to her feet, setting a
pace that Henshall found hard to follow. But he made an effort, and the
two were soon half walking, half running up the narrow path that
zigzagged out of the gorge. They pressed on for another hour, when
Henshall pointed to a small thicket on the slope above them. Here they
waited, hidden in the undergrowth. ‘Give it another hour’, whispered
Henshall. ‘Maybe they’ve turned back at the fall.’
‘If no see tracks’, said Laila.
‘If the guide doesn’t let on.’
The hour came and went. They waited a while longer, glad of the rest,
and then cautiously de-scended to the track and continued their
journey. What he looked like, Henshall could only imagine, but Laila
was clearly all in. She stumbled along, her clothes torn into open
rents. ‘Number one girl?’ she asked. ‘You’re doing well, Laila.
Not many field hands would have kept up this pace.’ The woman looked at
him, and Henshall realized she was trembling with fatigue, the eyes not
focusing properly. He felt strange himself. The arm throbbed even more,
and there was a dull pain around his cheeks and temple. Pray god it’s
not a fever, he thought.
‘If you like we could stop for the night,’ he said, ‘though it would be
best to go on. If we can get to the watershed tonight then tomorrow
will be all downhill. Difficult but easier than today.’
‘Only we’re going to be tired, and half-starved, and probably careless.
But we ought to get to the top tonight if we can.’
The woman scrambled awkwardly to her feet, helped Henshall up, and the
two resumed their climb. It grew colder and gloomier as the evening
came on, but still the path looped onward, some-times flattening out
for a while, and then steepen-ing again. Henshall glanced at his watch,
shaking his head. ‘That’s it,’ he called out at last, ‘we’ll finish the
‘Peter come see!’
Henshall slowly climbed the last few yards and found Laila gazing out
over a vast expanse of jun-gle that lay steeped in the last glints of
twilight. From here the path sloped downwards, through ravines and
waterfalls, which they would cross tomorrow, past limestone cliffs that
threw great shadows over the jungle flats, but through it, somewhere
over there, as Henshall knew on checking the compass reading, was the
logging camp and a place of safety. Smiling with relief, Henshall
turned round to Laila, and saw the woman staring at him in horror.