Round the Bend: Pages 231 through 240
ROUND the BEND
Nevil Shute, 1951
```(annotated and with added blue highlights by al-Brunardot)
bright track across the sea. I told him everything right from the first day I met Connie in Cobham's circus; I even put in a word or two about my marriage. I told him about Dwight Schafter, and I told him about U Set Tahn.
In the end he said quietly, "What do you really think about Shak Lin, Mr. Cutter? What sort of a person do you really think he is?"
I stared out over the dim sea. "I think he's a very good chap," I said at last.
"I know. But there are a large number of people here who think
he is divine."
"He's not," I said. "He's just a very good ground engineer with a bee in his bonnet." I paused, and then I said, "If I thought he was divine, I couldn't very well dictate my letters to his sister."
"No . . ." he said thoughtfully.
I could not put it into words, but what I meant was that Nadezna was a human being, a girl like any other girl. She was somebody that one could get to care for very much and to depend upon. It was unthinkable that her brother should have qualities above humanity; it was a gross fallacy that had to be put right, at all costs.
"I can assure you, there's nothing like that," I said positively. That was the first time I denied him.
He got up and went and got some papers from the room behind us, and when he came back he poured me out another whiskey, and got a fresh bottle of cold soda water from the refrigerator. Then he sat down beside me again.
"Did you know about the R.A.F. plans for expansion here?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Not a thing."
"It's in a very early stage," he said. "I think they're planning to put a squadron on the aerodrome at last. Of course, the trouble is that you are occupying the only hangar, and that's right on top of the R.A.F. camp."
"I see," I said. "Do they want to kick me out?"
"Not from the aerodrome," he said. "They realize that your business mustn't be disturbed. The proposal is that they should build a new civil aviation hangar for you, at the south end of the
north-south runway." He unfolded a plan of the aerodrome and showed me where they meant to put it. "Here. At the same time, they want to extend the present hangar by building over the vacant land to the south of it, here. The present hangar won't be large enough for them, apparently."
I stared at the plan in consternation. "Hell," I said. "They can't possibly do that. They can't build over that bit to the south. That's where the people come to say their prayers."
"It's all R.A.F. land, of course."
"It's holy ground," I retorted. "Honestly, you've got to put a stop to this. If they prevent the people coming there to pray you'll have all hell break loose."
"'That's because it's the bit of land that Shak Lin used for praying on?"
"That's right," I said. "It's very holy ground."
He smiled gently. "And yet, you don't think Shak Lin is divine?"
"Of course I don't," I said. "But other people do." That was the second time.
He sat studying the plan. "I think as you do," he said at last. "I don't think we can let them put their hangar there—not just at present, anyway. It's going to make a lot of difficulties I suppose, but I think they'll have to put their hangar somewhere else. Let you stay in the present hangar, and choose another site for their new buildings."
We talked over the details for a time. It was certainly an odd position, that a holy place had come into being in the middle of an R.A.F. camp. I told him that I thought that Air Vice Marshal Collins might be reasonable about it; he seemed to have acted with understanding at the time of the previous trouble.
Presently he laid the papers down. "I don't feel that the present situation is a static one," he said. "Do you?"
"I'm not sure that I know what you mean," I said.
"Well, what I mean is this. Either this cult of Shak Lin will die out in a few months, or else it will increase and be a bigger thing than ever. I don't believe that two or three hundred people will be coming up to the aerodrome to make their Rakats every
evening, in two years from now. There may be more or there may be less, but not two or three hundred."
"I think I'd agree with that," I said slowly. "I think there'll be a change."
"If we could guess which way the change would be," he remarked, "we'd know what to tell the R.A.F. about their hangar. If the people have forgotten all about Shak Lin in two years' time and nobody goes to the aerodrome to pray, then the R.A.F. can take that bit of land and build on it."
I shook my head. "I don't think it'll go like that. There's been no sign of any diminution so far. This thing is growing now at a great pace. Shak Lin has never been anywhere near Bombay, and yet his cult is strong amongst the engineers there now. So far as I can see, it's growing every day, all through the East. I haven't seen a sign of any falling off yet, not in any place. You'll have to work on the assumption that this thing won't die out here. I think myself that it will grow."
He said quietly, "You're saying, in effect, that we must work on the assumption that Shak Lin's divine."
"God damn it," I said angrily. "I tell you he's not. I know him, and he's just a damn good engineer who's going round the bend a bit. That's all there is to him." That was the third time.
"A damn good engineer who's going round the bend a bit," he said thoughtfully. "It wouldn't have been a bad description of the Prophet Mahomet, only he was a damn good merchant."
I got to my feet. "Time I went home," I said. "I'm sorry if I spoke strongly, but I know Shak Lin very well. And I know his sister, too. They're very ordinary people. She works in my office, you know." I could not possibly admit that there was anything different about Nadezna. I was growing to depend on her too much.
"I expect you're right," he said. "We've passed the age of miracles, except the ones that come from nuclear fission." He came down with me to the courtyard to my old Dodge station wagon. "It was very good of you to come this evening," he said. "It's a great help to have a talk to somebody who really knows what's making this place tick."
It was nice of him to say that. I said something or other of the
same sort in reply and drove back to the chummery, feeling that at last the Administration would be guided on the proper lines by this young chap.
Gujar Singh took the Tramp down to Bali on the first of the regular trips with a load of passengers and freight for Yenanyaung, Diento, and East Alligator River. He was back in nine days in accordance with the schedule, bringing with him four passengers and about half a ton of fresh fruit for the oil company's employees, mangoes and pawpaws and pineapples, things that we didn't very often see in the Persian Gulf. He brought me in a basket of this fruit to my office, and told me about the trip and showed me the journey log book; it had been a good, uneventful journey except that he had had a bit of trouble with the monsoon at the intertropical front over north Malaya. He hadn't been able to get high enough to over-fly the cloud banks and it looked so bad ahead that he had been unwilling to go through them, so he had gone under and had flown for five hundred miles in heavy rain along the beaches, only fifty feet up. Coming back it had been easier.
I asked him how things were going at the Bali end. He said that Connie and Phinit were getting quite a good little workshop going in the hangar; they had taken on two Balinese lads temporarily for whitewashing and painting and they were getting the place shipshape. The Governor wanted them to maintain his Auster, as we had supposed. Gujar had a list of tools and materials that they wanted to be sent down on the next trip.
"How's the accommodation working out?" I asked. "Did you go to the village where they live, Pekendang?"
"Oh, yes," he said. "We went there to sleep and spend the evening with them, Hosein and I." He hesitated, and then said, "I was not sure if we would have been accepted in the Bali Hotel, or if that is only for Europeans."
"I'm sure that would have been all right," I said. "There were Asiatics there when I was there. I ought to have told you. I'm sorry."
He smiled. "We liked it in Pekendang. It is much cheaper, too. We did not pay at all, but in the Bali Hotel it would have cost ten or fifteen guilders. It is better for us to stay in Pekendang with Shak Lin and Phinit."
"How are they getting on there, Gujar? Are they hitting it off with the villagers all right? It's pretty primitive accommodation."
He said, "They are very happy there, Mr. Cutter. I think Bali is a happy country, where people can live well and still have time to work upon their arts and serve their temples. I think that they are very happy there indeed."
"I'm glad to hear it," I replied. "I was just a bit worried that they might not have fitted in. That woman, Mem Simpang, is she looking after them all right?"
He said, "I think so. I only saw her once. Her daughter brings the food and keeps the room clean and mends Shak Lin's clothes."
"That's the good-looking girl? Ni Madé Jasmi?"
"They call her Madé," he said. "I did not hear the other name."
"She does for them?"
He hesitated. "There is another girl who seems to take care of Phinit. They call her Ktut Suriatni. The two girls do the work between them, but Madé works mostly for Shak Lin."
I said, "Is Phinit behaving himself, Gujar?"
He laughed in his great black beard. "With Ktut Suriatni? I do not think so. The village would probably be very insulted if he did."
"Not going to make any trouble?"
He shook his head. "He is a good lad, from a country that is not so far away, and he knows the rules by which this game is played. He will do whatever is the right thing in the eyes of the village. There will be no trouble, Mr. Cutter."
"I'm glad to hear it," I said. "What about Madé?"
He looked more grave. "Ah, Madé," he said. "She thinks nothing of Phinit, and in any case he could not have two women at one time. I do not think the village would approve of that. But Madé only serves the Teacher."
"And is she getting any joy out of that?"
He shook his head. "No joy."
I did not think she would, but it was an interesting situation. "Will the village take that as an insult, then?"
He smiled. "I do not think that they are very touchy. But in any case, Shak Lin is different to Phinit, and the village know it. Phinit is one of them, but Shak Lin is different."
"How do Connie and Phinit spend their time, Gujar?"
He said, "They are at the airstrip working most of every day. But in the evenings they sit in the village and talk with the people. They can talk to them now fairly well."
"What do they talk about?"
He grinned broadly. "What would Phinit talk about to Ktut Suriatni, Mr. Cutter? Your guess is as good as mine. But Shak Lin talks to the old men a great deal. A Buddhist priest came to the village the night I was there. He had walked from Besakih, a great temple in the middle of the island, to see the Teacher. He stayed after we had gone."
"I thought they were Hindus?"
He laughed. "I think you English call every religion that you do not understand, Hinduism. But there are Buddhists in the island, just a few."
"Shak Lin is finding out about the religion, I suppose?"
He nodded. "I think so."
"And that's bad luck on Madé?"
He nodded gravely. "He could have happiness for the asking,
and give it, too. But the Teacher is different to other men."
There was no arguing about that one. "I'll go down there myself one of these trips, Gujar," I said. "Stop over for a fortnight till the next one. It's time I took a bit of leave."
He said, "I think that would be a very good thing. It is a lovely island, and you should rest sometimes, Mr. Cutter. I think that would be very good indeed."
We left it at that, but the idea stayed in my mind. Late that night before going to sleep, as I luxuriated in bed in a cold room with two blankets over me, I got what seemed to me a pretty good notion. The more I thought of it the more I liked it, and I drifted into sleep with a smile on my face. It was still there when I woke up.
I could hardly wait till I had finished dictating to.Nadezna next morning. "Look," I said when the last letter was done. "I've been talking to Gujar about your brother and how they're getting on down there."
She nodded. "I've asked Gujar about Connie, too."
"Oh." I grinned at her. "Did he tell you about Madé Jasmi?"
She smiled. "That's the Bali girl who's looking after him?"
"That's the one. She's a very beautiful girl."
"So Gujar says."
"What I thought was this," I said. "I want a bit of a holiday. I was thinking we might get everything cleaned up here in the office and go down there, and stop over for one trip. Not this coming trip, but the one after. That gives us a clear fortnight in the office here to get everything buttoned up so that Dunu can look after things while we're away. Go down on one trip and come back on the next one. That would mean we'd have about a fortnight there. We should be away from here about three weeks."
I hesitated, and then I said, "You'd like to see your brother, wouldn't you?"
She sat silent with her eyes cast down, tracing a little pattern faintly with her pencil on the cover of her pad. I was disappointed that she had not welcomed the chance of a visit to Bali, but a man gets used to disappointments as his life goes on. I said gently, "Wouldn't you like to come?"
She said, "May I think it over, and tell you this evening?" She hesitated. "I don't think we ought both be away at the same time."
"Think it over," I said. "Gujar and Dunu can cope with anything that's likely to crop up. I'd leave Gujar here in charge."
I went on with the day's work in the office, but it was a weary day. I had counted on her coming with me for this holiday, and I didn't see what there was against it. It couldn't possibly be that she wanted a chaperon or anything like that, and I knew she was becoming fond of me. I wanted to be with her, to get to know her better, to find out what she liked and didn't like outside the office. She must have known I'd never do her any harm. I spent the day uncertain, worried and impatient.
In the evening, as she was putting the cover on her typewriter, I said, "Thought any more about this Bali business?"
She turned and faced me. She was wearing a white drill frock, very simple. "I've been thinking about it all day, Tom," she said. "I don't think I'd better come."
I suppose I'd known that was coming, though I didn't know why. My face must have shown my disappointment, because she
looked up at me and said, "I'm just terribly sorry. It's not that I don't want a holiday with you. It's Bali."
I sat down on the edge of the desk. "What's it all about?" I asked, as kindly as I could. "What's wrong with Bali?"
She said, "I don't want to go there, not just now."
"Don't you want to see Connie? I thought you'd like the chance."
She shook her head. "I don't want to see him for a bit."
I reached out and took one of her hands in mine. "Tell me why," I said. "I'm only trying to help."
"I know you are," she said. She smiled a little. "You're doing that in your own way all the time. That's why this party runs so well."
"I'd like to know why you don't want to go and see Connie," I observed.
"I know you do," she said thoughtfully. "Otherwise you'll think that it's because I don't want to go away with you, and it's not that at all."
"Thank God for that, anyway," I said.
She raised her eyes and looked at me. "I want to leave him alone for a bit," she said. "I don't mind you going. It might be quite a good thing if you did. But I don't want to go myself, not now. I think he's better without me."
"Why is that, Nadezna?"
She withdrew her hand, and walked over and stood by the open window. The people were beginning to go past to the place by the hangar for the evening prayer. She was silent for a bit, and then she said, "Did you meet this girl, Madé Jasmi?"
I was amazed that she should raise that thing again. Surely, she wasn't jealous? I said, "Yes, I just met her. She was with her mother when we were settling how much they were to pay. I didn't speak to her, of course. I couldn't."
"Is she nice, Tom?"
"She's got rather a nice face," I told her. "To look at her, you'd say she would be kind and even-tempered, and probably faithful."
She nodded slowly. "That's what Gujar said. Did Gujar tell you much about her, Tom?"
"He said that she looked after Connie mostly. There's another one who's looking after Phinit."
"Did he tell you that she was in love with Connie?"
"Yes," I said. "He told me that."
She stood looking out at the muddled buildings between us and the hangar, with glimpses of the tarmac and the sea beyond. "If that's true," she said, "it's the first time it's ever happened."
"The first time anyone has ever been in love with him?"
"I think so. You don't know of anyone, do you?"
I shook my head. "I never saw him take an interest in a girl, or any girl in him."
"Nor did I," she said. "But now, if Gujar Singh is right, there is a girl, and she's in love with him."
I thought about this for a moment. "Well, you can put it like that," I said at last. "I don't know much about the Balinese, and I don't think Gujar Singh does, either. She's a very lovely girl, Nadezna, but it's a very primitive village. She may want to go to bed with him. Probably she does. But whether you can put it any higher than that, I wouldn't know."
She said, "I only wish she would."
I grinned. "Think it'ld do him good?"
She said gravely, "I know it would."
She came and stood by me again. "I want you to try and understand about Connie, Tom," she said. "There's such a lot of nonsense being talked about him, that one can't deny, because it means so much to so many people. So many people think that he . . . that he's a prophet, or something. They do, honestly, down in the souk. They think that he's a sort of prophet."
I took her hand again, and examined it. "I know," I said. "Some people quite high up are starting to say that."
"You don't believe that, do you, Tom?" She looked at me appealingly.
I smiled at her. "I don't. I think he's just a damn good chap who's got a bee in his bonnet. Perhaps he's been out in the East too long."
She nodded. "I think he has. He always was interested in religions, ever since he was a little chap. And then, when we lived in America we were Asiatics, you see—different to the rest. Mother
was Russian-born and we always reckoned we were European, but we weren't really—not Connie and I. And of course, it made a difference. I don't think Connie ever had a girl friend in his life, not one. And his religion made up."
"I see," I said. This was a new light on the man I knew.
She said quietly, "Tom, I believe this is his chance, and it may be the last one that he'll have. I don't care who she is so long as she'll be kind to him, and make him happy like an ordinary man, and give him children. If she's an Asiatic, well, he's Asiatic too, and so am I. I want her to have him. He's never had a girl in love with him before, and that's what's made him into what he is. I want her to make him love her, and make him an ordinary man."
I stood studying her fingertips, holding her hand in mine. "You think that's what he's missed?"
"I know it is," she said. "He's always been incomplete, because he's never had that. He's slid deeper and deeper into his religion, just to compensate."
I stood thinking, perhaps, more about Nadezna whose hand I was caressing than about Connie. I was wondering if the same Asiatic nature of her birth had denied her boy friends, too. It might well be so. But she had had her mother to look after, and perhaps she had found compensation in that way.
"You're a good bit younger than Connie, aren't you?" I asked.
She nodded. "Eight years," she said. "There were two others between us—both boys. There was a typhoid epidemic in our street down by the harbour in Penang, and my father and Ivan and Victor all died. After that, Mother took Connie and me to London, because my father died fairly well off and Mother didn't want us to grow up as Chinese. My father had helped Sir Alan Cobham on one of his flights through Penang, and Mother wrote to him in London, and Sir Alan took Connie on as an apprentice. That's how he got started in this business."
I came back to the point that we had started from. "Why don't you want to go to Bali, then?" I asked.
She said, "I might frighten her, and spoil it."
She said, "Gujar and you say she's just a village girl, living in a very primitive place. But Gujar says that she's in love with him,