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Round the Bend: Pages 321 through 330

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  • Round the Bend: Pages 321 through 330

    ROUND the BEND
    Nevil Shute, 1951

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



    Kong to teach my ways, he will find there is a manager who will agree to pay his fare because he wants him in the shop. As for the old and the sick, you have provision for them in the Koran of the blessed Prophet. If this money is for them, it would be better that the Imam should dispose of it, not me."

    There was silence in the bedroom. Presently he spoke again. "I have no possessions," he said. "Only the clothes I wear, my kit of fine tools and micrometers, and three or four hundred rupees. These things should go to my sister after I am dead. Because I have nothing of value, nothing of responsibility, nothing but the memory of my words will remain. That is the way I want it."

    Gujar Singh spoke up. "Teacher," he said, "I know that what you say is true. Yet all the older creeds have found a use for money, and in some cases a good use. In Penang and many other places the Christians, the Roman Catholics and other Christian sects, maintain large buildings as schools and as homes for orphan children. Such deeds are good deeds, but the buildings have to be paid for. In that case the power of money has been used to do good things in the name of Jesus. May not the power of this money be used to do good things in your name, too?"

    Connie said drily, "I hope you're not comparing me with Jesus?"

    Gujar said defiantly, "I know that it is not the same. He was a woodworker."

    Connie smiled. "Okay," he said. "Have it your own way. But Jesus didn't need five hundred lakhs to spread His word."

    He was silent again, but presently he said, "This money is power. Great money is great power. But power has no place in what I teach; I do not teach men to be managers. I teach them to do good work and so serve God. Whether they sit at the manager's desk or whether they sweep the floor of the hangar is one to me. I shall die very soon. If I should receive this money, someone must administer it after me. And power corrupts.

    "Many evils spring from power,"
    he said. "Even from the power to do good. All power corrupts, and the intention to do good has little influence on the corruption. Either my words will last after me and be believed by men, or else they won't. Yet if one thing were required to kill them certainly, it is that my words should be


    spread after my death by the power of money. No teaching could survive a campaign of paid advertising."

    There was a long silence. "I cannot take this money," he said at last. "Let there be schools and orphanages, and let my name be on the schools and orphanages if you wish, as one who loved Sheikh Abd el Kadir, but let these schools and orphanages be in Baraka. Let Baraka be a centre for learning and security in the Persian Gulf, so that no child, from Abadan to Muscat, shall need a home and not find one. And let there be a school for engineers, and an airstrip with hangars where men can learn my calling and my way of life, and find their way to God by doing first-class work. But let all these things be in Baraka and Khulal, to the honour of Sheikh Abd el Kadir and his friend."

    He got up from the bed and said, "God go with you," in dismissal, and we all went out into the arcade, leaving Nadezna alone with him. The Arabs did not seem disconcerted at the refusal of the legacy; perhaps they had expected something of the sort. They did not discuss the matter then, but said good night with friendliness and courtesy, and went to their rooms. I think Fahad had some cause for satisfaction from the doings of the evening. Money meant nothing to him, as I have said; it would be years before he could spend even the income of the oil royalties. But an explicit direction from El Amin such as he had now received, to set up schools and orphanages for the whole of the Persian Gulf in Khulal was a help to him in dealing with the prejudice and reaction that was hindering the reforms he wished to make. A start was made on buildings for the orphanage and for the elementary school within three months of his return to Baraka.

    I was left in the arcade with Gujar and Arjan; for a time we walked up and down upon the stone flags in the moonlight. "Everything has now been renounced," Gujar said at ,last. "No more temptations can be left. This was the final one, the temptation of Power to do Good."

    Neither Arjan or I had anything to say to that, and we walked for a time in silence, the two Sikhs and I, each busy with our own thoughts.

    At last I said, "What comes next, Arjan? He can't go on like


    this for very much longer. Do you know what he wants to do when the end gets near?"

    He said, "I know that. He wants to go back to where it all began, to a place called Damrey Phong. I have never been there, but he says that you and Gujar know it. Is it in Cambodia?"

    "That's right," I said. "It's a very rural little village with one tarmac strip, about twelve hundred yards, I should think. It's about two hundred and fifty miles southeast from Bangkok, ten or twelve miles in from the coast, on a river. That's where he wants to go to, is it?"

    "That is where he wants to go to live until he dies," he said. "He has told me that if he should become ill suddenly, wherever we may be, I am to put him in the Proctor and fly quickly to Damrey Phong."

    "I see . . ." I thought for a minute. "It's not on the map," I said. "I think the village may be shown, but there was no airstrip marked on my map. I can pencil it in for you in the morning. It's not difficult to find, though. When you're two hundred miles out from Bangkok, start looking for a peninsula like a hammer, with a little island off the south head of the hammer. Go on about fifteen miles and you'll find the mouth of the river. The strip is about ten or twelve miles up the river, on the west side, between the river and a ruddy great mountain about two thousand feet high. You want to watch it when you're on the circuit; it's a place rather like Penang."

    "Is there a good house there?" he asked. "A house where I can care for him until he dies?"

    I bit my lip. "I shouldn't think there is. There were two European houses by the strip, but that's three years ago. I shouldn't think they'd be much good by now, and the hangar had already fallen down. He definitely wants to go there, does he?"

    Arian Singh nodded. "That is where he wants to go to die."

    We walked a few paces in silence. "I'll see if I can get something organized there, then," I said. "With five hundred and twenty lakhs going spare, there's no reason why he shouldn't die in comfort."

    I put the matter to Fahad in the morning. "There's so little we can do for him, Sheikh," I said. "He will take nothing for himself.


    But if he goes to this place Damrey Phong for his last few months, he ought to have a house suitable for a sick man and a friend or two, and perhaps a doctor. And I think there should be a hangar for his aeroplane; in such a place he ought to have an aeroplane to keep in contact with Bangkok. Moreover, aeroplanes are his life's work. I can provide the aeroplane and a spare engine for it, and Arjan Singh wishes to stay with El Amin till he dies, so there will be a pilot. Will you provide the house and the hangar? I do not think that it can cost so much as one lakh."

    He said, "I will do that gladly." We talked about it for a little time. "Surely," he said, "something should be done at once, because the matter is now urgent. Within a month he will be wanting to go there to die."

    "I know," I said.

    "Where is this place, Damrey Phong?" he said. "Is it possible for us to fly there now, and engage men to start the buildings?"

    "We could do that," I said. "It would take us about two days to get there, by way of Calcutta and Bangkok."

    "Let us ask El Amin if he will allow us to do that."

    We went to see Connie, with the Wazir. Arjan and Nadezna were in his room, so we were all together. He was resting on the bed. "Look, Connie," I said, "we've been talking about what happens next." And then I told him what we proposed.

    He was pleased at the idea. "I want to go back there," he said. "If you're going to do any building, keep it small and simple, so that simple people will come and see me. I'd like a bedroom with a verandah facing on the strip, and the hangar at right angles to the house, so that if I'm in bed on the verandah I can see into the hangar, and the aircraft landing and taking off on the strip, and everything that's going on."

    "Okay," I said. "We'll have it like that. Now, Connie, there's another thing. Madé Jasmi, down in Bali—she wanted to come and cook for you and wash your clothes when you had to stop travelling. Would you like to have her there, or shall we give that a miss?"

    "I'd like to have her," he said. "She'd be all right there. It's not so very different to her own place. If I hadn't been such a fool I should have married her."


    "I'll see that she gets there," I said.

    "Will you see that she gets back again to Bali after my death?" he asked. "She wouldn't be happy knocking around the world in towns or cities."

    "No," I said. "I'll see that she gets back there right away."
    There was one more thing. "Connie," I said, "we're going on to Damrey Phong from here, but none of us speak a word of Cambodian or Siamese. Can we make contact with anybody in Bangkok who can come with us to Damrey and act as an agent?"

    "Tan Khoon Prasit," he said. "He's in Bangkok, and he's a friend of mine. He'll fix you up with everything you want. I'll give you a letter to him."

    We all left Agra that afternoon. Connie and Arjan Singh went on to Delhi in the Proctor, and the Arabs and Nadezna and Gujar and I went to Calcutta in the Carrier. We stopped the night there and took off at dawn next day for Bangkok, and got there about midday after a six-hour flight.

    I had sent a telegram to Tan Khoon Prasit, and he was on the aerodrome to meet us, a small, smiling Siamese who spoke good English. He was in the Treasury and he had something to do with the Government's airline, Siamese Airways. With the pull he had at Don Muang airport everything was made very easy for us, and we were driving down to the city with him within half an hour of landing.

    He took us to his house, a villa on the outskirts of the town. He had Chinese tea for us, served ceremonially in little cups without handles, somewhat in the manner of Turkish coffee in the Persian Gulf, and then we settled down to tell him our story and what we wanted. It soon appeared that he himself was a follower of Shak Lin; he said that his teaching had influenced aircraft maintenance in Bangkok very much, both in the airline and in the Air Force. He had been a passenger on the Dakota that had gone from Bangkok to Bali to pay homage to the Teacher, and he remarked that he had noticed then how ill he looked.

    He was practical and helpful over Damrey Phong. He said that the district was still held by the Viet Minh forces, but no fighting had taken place there ever, or was likely to do so. So far as he knew the airstrip had not been used since Dwight Schafter had


    left; he had never heard of anybody going there. He could supply an interpreter to go with us to Dainrey if we liked and to negotiate any settlement that might be necessary with the local authorities before we started to build on the airstrip. He did not think there would be any difficulty at all. He suggested that he might make contact with the Buddhist hierarchy in Bangkok, who thought so highly of Shak Lin and of his teaching, and who might wish to send a priest with us to smooth out any points that might arise on the religious side.

    We left next day with a young Siamese on board called Khun Phra Sanid and a Buddhist monk in a yellow robe whose name was Boonchuey, which means Helped by Merit. We came to Damrey Phong about an hour and a half later, and I circled it at about five hundred feet" a couple of times. It all looked much the same; the two European houses were still there and apparently occupied, but the roof of one of them had been thatched with palm leaves, which didn't look so good.

    The strip looked all right still, but I brought the Carrier down and flew ten feet up along the length of it while Gujar Singh and I studied the surface from our windows. It was crumbling somewhat at the edges and paddy melons were encroaching on it in parts and spreading over the hot tarmac, but we saw no holes. I took her up again and made a circuit and came in on a long, straight approach, and put her down.

    She came to a standstill opposite the houses; I stopped engines and left her where she was; nobody else was likely to want the runway. We all got out, and the two Siamese began talking to the people who came out from the houses and from the town. They remembered the Carrier, and they remembered Gujar Singh and me from our visit to the place three years before. They said that no aeroplane had visited Damrey since then. They asked at once about Connie.

    The two houses weren't too bad. One of them needed a new roof and most of the glass windows had been broken, but although white ants had been at them a bit there was nothing that a few carpenters could not put right. Fahad told Khun Phra Sanid to buy them right away, and we flew back to Bangkok in the evening.

    That night the Arabs chartered the Carrier from me for an


    indefinite period, with Gujar Singh to fly it. All the building materials and labour that were required could be obtained in Bangkok and flown to Damrey in the Carrier, with hospital equipment and linen, and everything necessary for a sick man. Nadezna stayed with them to organize that part of it. They got corrugated iron sheets, too, and steel angles for the framework of the hangar, and cement for the floor; all these things were to go to Damrey in the Carrier in repeated trips.

    I could do nothing much to help all these arrangements, and my business in Bahrein required me urgently. I left all this to go ahead and flew to Mergui in a Fairchild Argus of Siamese Airways, having cabled to Hosein to pick me up there on his way back from Bali in the Tramp. He arrived a day later, and two days after that I was back in Bahrein telling Captain Morrison about it, and tackling the huge pile of paper on my desk.

    A fortnight after that Madé Jasmi got to Damrey Phong. I sent a letter down to Phinit at Pekendang and told him to explain to her that the time had now come when she could go to Shak Lin in the quiet place beside the airstrip that she knew about before any of us, to cook his food and wash his clothes. She put on her jacket as a concession to foreign ways and took a small rush basket with a few things in it, and got into the great aircraft with Hosein and his passengers, and went off as nonchalantly as the most seasoned traveller. Hosein put down at Mergui in Tenasserim as he had done for me, and Nadezna met her with the Argus there, and flew her to Damrey Phong by way of Bangkok.

    Fahad was a good organizer, and he got the buildings up and ready in a very short time. He got the hospital equipment that he needed in Bangkok, because it was all simple stuff. Then Gujar Singh suggested that there ought to be electric light, which meant a motor generator set, and if they had electricity they might as well have a radiotelephony equipment that would enable them to keep in contact with Bangkok. They appealed to me for these things, and I flew to Cairo in an Airtruck and got them there, and sent them down to Mergui on the next Tramp flight, and Gujar picked them up from there and took them to Damrey Phong. I sent a spare engine for the Proctor too, because it seemed to me that Connie's engine must be near its time, and with it I sent


    down a kit of spares and tools in case he wanted to do the overhaul of the old engine there himself. I had a hunch that possibly it was the kind of job that he might like to potter about with, on days when he was feeling well enough to work.

    About six weeks after we had met him at Agra, his tour came to an end. He was talking from the wing of the Proctor to a crowd of engineers and pilots at Vizagapatam when he had some kind of a stroke and was unable to go on talking, and he might have fallen but for the fact that Arjan Singh was up there on the wing behind him, probably with that in mind. He was deaf on his left side after that, and the sight of his left eye was somewhat dimmed, and he decided to give up. Arjan Singh put him in the back seat of the Proctor where he could lie at ease, and flew him in two days to Damrey Phong by way of Calcutta, Akyab, Rangoon and Bangkok.

    Nadezna told me that he was pathetically glad to see the Balinese girl, Madé Jasmi, waiting for him there. She said that he could hardly take his eyes off her on the first day, ill though he was.

    He hadn't been there a week before the first Dakota load of pilgrims came. They were Buddhists from Rangoon. Gujar had brought the Arab party back to Bahrein the day before, but Arjan Singh was there, and the Buddhist priest, Boonchuey. There were about forty pilgrims, and when the Dakota taxied to a standstill they got out and came and sat down in rows in front of the houses, patient and orderly, waiting for a sight of the Teacher. In spite of the protests of Nadezna and Madé and the Siamese nurse, Connie got up from his bed and went and sat on the verandah steps and talked to them for an hour, mostly about maintenance schedules on the Dakota aircraft. The Buddha was still in the same position at the edge of the airstrip, getting a bit weather-beaten now, and in the evening he went there with Boonchuey and knelt with the pilgrim engineers while the Buddhist monk held some kind of a service.

    That was all right, perhaps, but there was no provision for feeding and housing forty pilgrims on the airstrip; they slept in the aircraft and in the hangar and all over the place, and ate the small village out of all its food supplies. That was no matter because


    Damrey Phong is in a rice-growing district and the pilgrims paid for their meals. The villagers made money out of them, and looked for the next aircraft eagerly.

    It came a few days later, this time from Calcutta, and with it came news of others on the way. Arjan Singh paid the villagers with money left with him by Wazir Hussein to build an atap dormitory hut, a simple affair that consisted of little but a board floor raised two feet above the ground, a thatched roof, and a lot of charpoys or string beds. The Hindus behaved well, but they were troubled by the Buddha, and they came to Arjan in a body before leaving and asked if there might be a Hindu shrine or temple there as well. He said that the Teacher would welcome it and that Hindus might put up what they liked, provided that it was well back from the runway and generally in the line of the other buildings.

    Arjan Singh wrote letters about all this to Wazir Hussein to account for the money he was spending, and Nadezna wrote to me every week. The Wazir turned up in my office one day rather concerned about what was going on, because it seemed that two or three Dakotas full of Moslems had been there, and there was no mosque at Damrey Phong. There was a little Buddhist temple which the villagers were building up themselves out of the profits of the catering and urged on by Boonchuey, and a Bengali jute merchant had provided three lakhs of rupees for quite an imposing Hindu temple. The Wazir said that his young master was distressed to hear that there was no mosque on the strip and no Imam, and that he proposed to make good these deficiencies immediately. I said, of course, I thought that it would be a very good thing.

    Connie had been there for over four months before I was able to free myself from my business in Bahrein for long enough to go down there again to see him—and Nadezna. I had replaced her in the office by an Iraqui shorthand typist, but he wasn't really any help to me; he could never act upon his own initiative to relieve me, as Nadezna had done every day. There came a time, however, when I realized that unless I went to Damrey soon I might not see Connie again, and so I called in Gujar Singh and told him to


    get on with it, and cabled Arjan to meet me with the Proctor at Mergui, and went down on the Tramp with Hosein.

    Arjan told me when I met him that a load of pilgrims came in almost every day, and sometimes two in one day; in fact, we got to Damrey Phong about the same time as a Dakota from Ceylon and had to make another circuit while it landed ahead of us and got off the runway. They had got into the swing of handling the pilgrims by that time. He told me that they had never had any sort of trouble, even when Moslems and Hindus had arrived together; this was probably because, being technicians, they were all fairly well-educated men, made more broadminded, too, by travel. To prevent any risk of clashes, however, he had had separate dormitory huts put up for each of the three main religions, and these stood each behind its own temple in an orderly array. With all these buildings; from the air Damrey Phong was starting to look quite a place.

    I found Connie in bed on the verandah. He was looking very frail and white; it did not seem to me that he had very long to go. He no longer got up to speak to the pilgrims, nor did he pay much attention to them while I was there. The routine was that they went to prayer at their own temple, and there the resident priest explained to them that they must not expect much from the Teacher, who was now a dying man. Then they would come and sit down on the ground in front of the house where they could see Connie in his bed, and he went on talking to whoever happened to be with him, or dozing, paying little or no attention to them. In the evening they were called to prayer again, and ate, and slept, and took off again in their aircraft in the morning.

    I sat with him on the verandah in the days that I was there for long periods, watched by all these pilgrims seated on the ground before the house; after a time one forgot about them, and took no notice. He was very pleased to see me, and grateful for everything that had been done to help him. Madé Jasmi sat all day on the verandah steps when she was not cooking or washing for him, making her palm leaf offerings in the Balinese way; the Hindu priest had made a special little shrine to Shiva for her in the temple, and she used to put them there, and pray. When pilgrims were about she wore her jacket, but at other times she