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Round the Bend: Pages 241 through 250

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  • Round the Bend: Pages 241 through 250

    ROUND the BEND
    Nevil Shute, 1951

    ```(annotated and with added blue highlights by al-Brunardot)



    and Phinit, living there with him, is living with another of the girls there, one of Madé Jasmi's friends. If ever Connie had a chance of knowing what love means it's now. And if he can have that, I think he might snap out of all this prophet stuff, and come back to us as a normal man."

    "Why do you think you'd frighten her?" I asked. "You're on her side."

    Nadezna said, "If she's a village girl like that, she'd never believe it. Different clothes, different speech, different colour . . . If I turned up there as his sister she'd be terrified of me, and angry, too, because she'd think that I resented her and wanted to take him from her. I'd never get her to believe that I want her to have him."

    "No," I said thoughtfully. "I don't suppose you would."

    "I think I'll have to keep away," she said. "However much one wants to help her I think this is a time when another woman just can't help at all."

    "Would you rather I kept clear of them, myself?" I asked.

    She shook her head. "I think it might be helpful if you went, if you can spare the time. Connie thinks so much of you, Tom. He may want to talk to somebody before he takes her." She smiled. "He's such a bunch of ideals," she said. "He's quite capable of keeping a girl hanging round while he consults a friend to ask him if he's doing the right thing."

    I laughed. "You want me to push him into it."

    "I do,"
    she said, but she wasn't laughing at all. "I think that it's the only thing to save him now."

    There was real pain and anxiety in her when she said that, and for a moment I thought that she was going to start crying. I put an arm clumsily around her shoulders. "It's not as bad as that," I said. "After all, nothing's going to happen if he doesn't get this girl."

    "Only one thing," she said sadly.

    "What's that?"

    "I think he'll turn into a prophet."

    I was silent.

    "I don't know how a man becomes a prophet," she said quietly.
    "But thousands of people, spread all through the East—they


    think he's one already. I suppose that if a person gives up earthly things and preaches a new, simple way of life to people who are hungry for his teaching—I suppose that's what a prophet is, isn't it? Or is there something more to it than that?"

    I pressed her shoulders gently. "Look," I said. "I don't know what a prophet is, or what makes one. I only know that it's a very long time since there's been a prophet in the world. Far as I know, Mahomet was the last, and he lived about fourteen hundred years ago. That's a good long time ago. I don't know what a prophet is, but I do know this: that it's pretty long odds against our having one here in our little party, now. In all these ages, people must have been thought to be prophets who weren't really, just ordinary chaps who'd been out in the East too long. That's all that Connie is, Nadezna—honestly. And if we treat him that way, it's the best thing we can do." I paused. "I'd like to see him have a job in a cold climate for a time. In England or America."

    She smiled, and pressed my hand, and said, "Dear Tom. But he wouldn't go."

    "No . . ." I thought about it for a minute. "Well then, I'd like to see him get this girl. I think you're quite right there. I think that it would do him good, perhaps."

    She looked up, smiling. "If he became the father of twins it'ld knock him off his perch, wouldn't it?"

    I burst out laughing, and she freed herself from my arm and laughed with me. "Well anyway," she said, "you go alone this time and find out what he's up to, and give him a push the right way." She was calm and matter of fact about it now, all apprehensions of the unknown put away. "I'll stay here and look after things with Dunu." She paused. "But don't think it's because I won't come with you for a trip, Tom. I'd like to do that—but not to Bali. Not just now."

    "All right," I said. "I'll go and see what I can make of it."

    Arjan and Hosein took the Tramp down for the next journey to Bali, and I went on quietly at Bahrein, making my preparations to go down on the following trip and spend a fortnight there. I flew one of the Airtrucks once or twice upon a local journey, and I spent some time in the hangar with Chai Tai Foong and the ground engineers. Most of the time I spent in the office, be-


    cause it was there that I liked to be now.
    There was always something to talk about with Nadezna, something to make a joke about with her.

    I never took her out anywhere, for the very good reason that there was nowhere to take her to in Bahrein. There was no restaurant where we could have a meal together, or anything like that. If one drove out in the car you got out into the dry, parched desert in a couple of miles, without a tree or any vegetation whatsoever. I did think once or twice of taking her bathing, but that's not much catch in the Persian Gulf; you can't go in more than knee-deep because of the sharks, and there's no shade at all, which makes it rather trying. I'd never felt the need of anywhere to go except the office up till then, and now it was in the office that we met and got to know each other. It was very pleasant there in those few days.

    Hosein and Arjan came back in the Tramp according to their schedule, and I warned Gujar Singh and a new pilot that we had called Kadhim that they would be the first and second pilots for the next trip down to Bali, the one I should be going on. Hosein and Arjan Singh had spent the night in Pekendang with Connie and Phinit, but they were neither so observant or so much in my confidence as Gujar Singh, and I didn't like to question them too closely about the women. I learned nothing from them. Nadezna asked Gujar to find out anything he could from them, but they had little information for him. They were both devout followers of Connie, Hosein in particular, and it had probably never entered their heads that the Teacher could take any interest in a woman.

    Two days before I was due to leave for Bali, I was in the hangar with Tai Foong when Nadezna came to me. "Wazir Hussein's just arrived and wants to see you, Mr. Cutter," she said. She always called me Mr. Cutter in front of other people. "He's in the office, waiting."

    I left the hangar and went over to the office, wondering what he wanted. I was up to date with my payments on the loan to buy the Tramp, and with the work that the machine was doing I could step the payments up, if need be. I thought about that


    quickly as I walked over to the office, past the maroon car with the Arab chauffeur.

    I went and greeted him. "How very nice of you to come," I said. "Let me order coffee." I nodded to Nadezna in the doorway and she nodded back that she would send for it, and closed the door softly behind her, so that I was alone with Hussein.

    We began to talk about the weather and the crops as usual, and very soon he asked me how the Tramp had been behaving, so I knew it wasn't that that he had come to talk about. I told him all about it and the work that it was doing, wondering all the time what he had come for if it wasn't that, and he listened politely and said all the right and courteous things at the right time. Then Dunu brought a tray with the small cups of Turkish coffee, and put it on the desk between us, and went out and closed the door behind him.

    Presently the Wazir said, "And where is Shak Lin now, Mr. Cutter?"

    "He's at Bali in Indonesia," I said, "looking after the far end of our service there." I told him what Shak Lin was doing and how he was living. I found he did not really know where Bali was, and he wasn't too sure about Indonesia either, so I took him to the big map of Asia that I had pinned up upon the wall and showed him where Bali was and how the aircraft flew there every fortnight to meet the Dakota coming up from Darwin. He was an able man with an alert mind, and he grasped the various points very quickly.

    We went back to our chairs. "And will El Amin be coming back here to Bahrein in the near future?" he asked.

    "I don't think so," I said carefully. "As you must know, there was a small amount of friction here about him, and the Liaison Officer suggested to me that he should be sent away." He inclined his head, and his face darkened; with his black beard and aquiline features framed in the white cloth of his head dress he looked quite an ugly customer for a moment. "Things are much more pleasant now," I said. "I think perhaps if I were to ask for his return the Government might allow it." I paused. "On my side, I don't need him back here. He's doing good work for us where he is, and the Chinese boy, Chai Tai Foong, who has suc-


    ceeded him, is doing well." I added, "Doing well in the straight performance of the work, I mean. No one could replace Shak Lin as a teacher of ground engineers, or as a man."

    He nodded gravely. "That is very true. He is not likely to return here, then?"

    "I don't think he is." I hesitated. "I doubt if he would want to, himself. When he left here, he felt that his time here was over, that it was time that he moved on, in any case. He went without resentment, for that reason."

    He nodded again, and we sat together for some time in silence. At last he said, "My master, the Sheikh Abd el Kadir, is becoming an old man. He will not live for very many months more. He is not ill, but he is tired now and ready to put down his burdens. He wants very much to meet El Amin once again, to pray with him and take his blessing before he lies down to die."

    "I see," I said. The old man, after all, had lent me sixty thousand pounds at a time when I needed it badly. I still owed him most of it. "That's very easy to arrange," I said. "Shak Lin can come back here on one machine and go down again on the next trip. He'd have about four days here, if he did that. I should have to ask the Resident, of course. But this new Liaison Officer, Captain Morrison, wwld help us there. And as for Shak Lin, I know he'd be glad to come."

    He said evenly, "My master would not ask the Resident for any favour in this matter, nor would he allow you to do so."

    There was another long silence while he left that to sink in. I had known, of course, that there was some bitterness; I had not realized that it was quite so strong as this. Time would heal it, of course, because the old Sheikh would be dead before so very long, but it seemed to me to be a sad thing that official clumsiness should have produced such lasting ill feeling. If anyone could ease the matter for the Resident and Captain Morrison, perhaps now, queerly, it was me.

    "What can we do about it?" I enquired at last. "How can I help your master, who has helped me so much?"

    He said, "My master would like to travel to El Amin. I do not think that he would ask so great a man to come back here, halfway across the world, to visit him. My master wishes to


    arrange that you should fly him to El Amin in your large aeroplane, with some members of his household, so that he may see Shak Lin again and talk to him before he dies."

    I thought quickly. The Sheikh would have to go in his own aeroplane, the Tramp; no doubt that was his idea. Because of the relationship between the Arabia-Sumatran and the Sheikh by which they paid for his oil, Johnson would probably forego one of his fortnightly trips for this purpose, if I put it to him. We could free the Tramp for the job. But the Tramp was a bare box inside, unfurnished, unheated, and unsoundproofed; a poor vehicle for an invalid old man to live in for four days to Bali, and four days back, all through the tropical extremes of heat and cold.

    I said, "Of course I will do that, Wazir. If that's what he wants to do, he shall do it. I can arrange for him to fly to Bali in the Tramp, the large aeroplane which he lent me the money to buy, or I can arrange for him to charter a more comfortable aeroplane, that an old man can travel in without so much fatigue." And I went on to tell him of my doubts about the suitability of the Tramp.

    We walked over to the hangar together for me to show him the Tramp. We got up into it and stood in the great empty cabin, floored with duralumin, with bare stringers and formers supporting the outer skin of the walls, innocent of any upholstery. I showed him the toilet that my mother had admired so much, back in distant Eastleigh; that was about all the passenger accommodation that there was. "As an alternative," I said, "I can arrange for him to charter a York from B.O.A.C. That would have a crew of five or six, probably with two stewards in uniform, with proper arrangements for serving meals. It would be warmer for him, and much less noisy. I can't say quite what it would cost; probably between five and six thousand pounds for the return journey."

    He said, "The money is not important. . . ." He looked around the inside of the Tramp. "Could we put a carpet on the floor, and a couch for my master to lie on?"

    I said, "Of course we can, Wazir. If he would like to use this aeroplane we can do anything like that, only limited by the amount that we can carry, which is five tons."

    He said, "I think my master would prefer to go in one of your


    aeroplanes. He would not want to go upon his pilgrimage in luxury and carried by a crew of unbelievers." He glanced around him at the bleak functional utility of the metal cabin. "This is more suitable." He turned back to me. "My master would prefer to be carried by devout men."

    "Of course." I thought for a minute. "If he wishes," I said, "I can arrange for the whole crew to be Moslems. I can arrange for Hosein and Kadhim to go as first and second pilots; they're both Iraquis. Then I should send two of my Bahrein men who are accustomed to travelling by air to act as servants—Tarik and Khail, I think. But frankly, I should like my chief pilot to go with your master upon such a journey—Gujar Singh. He's a Sikh. If your master has no strong objection, I should like to send Gujar as chief pilot and Hosein as second pilot."

    "It does not matter that the crew should all be Moslems," He replied, "El Amin himself is not a Moslem. My master knows Gujar Singh, and everybody trusts him."

    As we walked back to the office I told him that the Arabia-Sumatran had first call upon the Tramp under their contract, and that I would see Johnson at once and see if I could get him to release the aircraft for one trip. I told him that I was going down to Bali on the next flight myself, and we arranged that the Sheikh's journey should be the trip after that, so that I should be at Bali to meet the aircraft when it arrived, and could make arrangements for the accommodation of the party. Then I would travel back with them to Bahrein on the return journey.

    He was staying with Sheikh Muhammad, with his master, the Sheikh of Khulal, at the palace just outside the town. I told him I would see Johnson at once and call on him at the palace later in the day. Then he bowed to me and said, "May God protect you," and got into the back of his maroon Hudson, and was driven away.

    I went and saw Johnson and got him to agree to stand down for one trip; as I had thought, he was very ready to oblige the Sheikh of Khulal in this way. I went to the palace and drank coffee with the party and confirmed the arrangements with the Wazir, and told him how much it would cost him, and got away from there after only an hour and forty minutes—good going in


    those parts. Then I went back to the aerodrome. Gujar Singh was there, and I had a talk to him about it in the office. We rearranged the pilots' schedules to send Arjan on the next trip with Kadhim since Gujar was to pilot the old Sheikh, because I didn't want my chief pilot to be away from the home base too much.

    As he got up to go, Gujar said, "This is the next phase, then."

    "What's that?" I asked.

    He said, "This is the first pilgrimage to visit Shak Lin."

    Nadezna was in the room, taking some papers from the basket on my desk. I felt her chock and stiffen. "This is exceptional," I said uncertainly. "This won't happen again."

    He smiled. "We can't do anything to stop it, if it does."

    He went out, and Nadezna was still standing there, motionless by my desk. "It is exceptional," I said gently. "It doesn't mean anything. . . ."

    She said dully, "Only that an old man who is dying thinks it worth while to go six or seven thousand miles to get Connie's blessing."

    I tried to cheer her up. "Perhaps Madé Jasmi's done her stuff by this time." And then I said, "You're sure you wouldn't like to come down with me?"

    She sighed a little. "No," she said, "I couldn't help. You go alone, Tom, and do what you can."

    I left with the Tramp two days later, and travelled like a passenger, resting in a long chair in the cabin with the load. The pilots were getting the hang of the journey by that time and were making longer stages. We were circling the airstrip of Den Pasar on Bali by midday of the fourth day, half a day ahead of time. The Dakota from Darwin wasn't due until the evening; I made a note to put its times forward by a day.

    Connie and Phinit were on the aerodrome to meet us, and began work at once to check the aircraft and the engines, and to refuel. We had two Australian scientists and a Dutchman with us to go on as passengers to East Alligator River, and for courtesy I had to stay with them and not go off alone to Pekendang. Moreover, it wouldn't have benefited me to do so, because Connie and Phinit would be working very late upon the Tramp, perhaps all through the night, to get it ready for the trip back to Bahrein.


    Probably they wouldn't get back to Pekendang themselves that night.

    I sent my passengers into the Bali Hotel in the K.L.M. car, and set to work with the pilots and the engineers to get the aircraft serviced and the load ready to tranship to the Dakota when it came. It turned up just before dusk and taxied in, and as we were all there and working we changed loads that night. It was most of it light stuff that could be carried over from one aircraft to the other, all except one motor generator set that the Dakota had brought for us to take back to Diento; this weighed over a ton and we had to rig the sheer legs for it. It was nine o'clock by the time we could leave for the Bali Hotel, and Connie and Phinit were still working on the engines of the Tramp when we went.

    They were there when we got out to the airstrip next morning at about half past seven. Connie said that they had finished about one o'clock and had slept for a few hours on charpoys in the hangar; they had the engines running and the machines all ready to go when we got there, so they had probably been working again at dawn. The crews and passengers got into their respective aircraft and made ready with the usual deliberation; then the machines taxied out and down the strip together. The Dakota took off first and headed straight out from the strip towards the east. The Tramp followed and climbed straight ahead till it was at about five hundred feet, slowly raising flaps; then it turned in a wide circle and flew past north of us, climbing, and set a course to the northwest for Sourabaya and vanished up the coast.

    Connie, Phinit, and I were left upon the ground, tired, they with a night's work and I with four days' flying. Connie said, "Where are you going to stay? Will you stay in Den Pasar or come with us?"

    "I'd like to come and stay in Pekendang, if that can be arranged," I said. "Would they mind having a European in the village?"

    "Not a bit," he said. "I thought you might want to come there, for a day or two anyway. I've fixed up a room for you to yourself, and a bed, and a mosquito net. But it's all a bit primitive, you know."


    I nodded. "If I get fed up with it I'll go back to the Bali Hotel. But I don't suppose I shall."

    "They've got very interesting techniques of wood carving," he said. "There's quite a bit to see."

    I had brought my bag with me to the aerodrome, and he sent one of the Balinese labourers to get it; we locked the workshop and closed the hangar doors, and started off walking across the airstrip towards the village. We went slowly because the sun was getting up and the heat increasing, but when we got off the aerodrome the track led through scrub and palm trees, and it was shady and cool and pleasant. After about half an hour we came to the walled family enclosures that made up the village, and turned into the one that I remembered, and into the internal square with the shrines round it.

    Connie and Phinit, I found, now lived separately. Connie was alone in the one-roomed atap house that I remembered, but Phinit had moved out and had gone to live with one of the families of the village, the family of the girl Ktut Suriatni who looked after him. He was, in fact, living happily and openly in wedded bliss. Connie was living alone. He had got another single-roomed house for me a few yards away and he took me there; a little place with a thatch roof and atap walls, the floor raised about three feet off the ground. There was no door, and not much privacy except what would be provided by the darkness when night fell.

    "People will come in and have a look at all your things," he said. "They won't take anything."

    A girl came up as he was showing me the little house, Madé Jasmi, that I remembered from my previous visit. She had her long black hair gathered behind her head and hanging down her back; she wore a little cotton jacket which represented her best clothes in deference to me because I was a stranger, open down the front for coolness. I smiled at her in recognition and she smiled at me, and then she asked a question of Connie.

    "She wants to know if we want food," he said. "I'd like to rest this afternoon, if you don't mind. I was up most of the night. Shall we eat something now?"

    I said that that would suit me. "What do you eat here?"