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Round the Bend: Pages 71 through 80

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  • Round the Bend: Pages 71 through 80

    ROUND the BEND
    Nevil Shute, 1951

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



    hands, there was little difficulty in paying for them in negotiable currency. The Cornell Carrier was just the aircraft for the job.

    "Six journeys, and this baby will be paid for," said Dwight Schafter. "After that, it's all clear profit." When Connie got to Damrey Phong the Carrier had already made two trips, and was loaded and fuelled, ready to start on a third.

    Connie settled down at this out of the way tropical village quite happily. He had two indifferent engineers under him, one a Burmese lad, and one a Chinese from Hong Kong. They messed together in one of the European style houses where these two engineers lived with two girls of the village serving as their wives, simple and attractive girls who did the cooking and housework for them, and who volunteered at once to bring along a selection of their friends for Connie to choose from. There was genuine kindness and good feeling behind the offer as well as the desire to ease the housework caused by a third man, but he refused and chose an older woman as his servant. He had not come to Damrey Phong for a domestic life.

    Dwight Schafter and his co-pilot, Seriot, lived in the other house upon the strip, each with a local girl. These girls had an easy time, because their lords were hardly ever there. There was no other air crew; Schafter and his brown co-pilot flew every trip together, alternately in the Dakota and the Carrier. They were superb as a crew. They flew practically every day, long, difficult journeys with no meteorological reports except what they could glean by listening to the scheduled radio weather forecasts from Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila, and Bangkok; they were very cunning at that. There were no ground aids to guide them on their way in the dark night; they always flew the last stages by night. Alone they had to make their landfall on dark, inaccurately mapped coasts, alone they had to find the secret airstrips where a few flickering flares of paraffin laid on the grass served as the sole help to them for putting down these large, heavily loaded aircraft. Over all was the continual danger of detection, and a quick burst of tracer into them from some defending fighter, unseen and unsuspected, that would end it all. They must have been men of iron, for they came and went over and over again, and showed no sign of any mental stress. It was a job to them


    like any other job
    , except that it was an exceptionally good one.

    In the thirteen weeks that Connie was with them at Damrey Phong the Carrier made eleven or twelve trips to Indonesia, loaded with two field guns every time. They kept no records or log books, and Connie could not recollect exactly how many journeys each machine had made. Between the Carrier journeys the Dakota flew in field gun ammunition and small arms, about the same number of trips. It took the Indonesians about that time to recondition the first guns. They got them into action against the Dutch Army after about two months, and raised a hornet's nest for Dwight Schafter.

    The Dutch were no fools, and they knew fairly well where all these arms were coming from. The trouble was that at that time they controlled only small areas of Java and Sumatra round about the larger towns, and it was fairly easy for a resolute pilot coming in by night to land upon an Indonesian airstrip to discharge his load. The Dutch Air Force pilots were ready and valiant in flying on night fighter patrols, but sheer bravery cannot replace the technical equipment necessary for a successful interception, and at that time they hadn't got it. A number of Dutch Mustangs were lost on these night fighter patrols; the pilots, if they survived, were executed immediately by the Republicans, who fought their war according to an Eastern code. For a time the loss of aircraft and pilots was more serious to the Dutch than the continued landing of small arms, and the night patrols became infrequent.

    When artillery appeared in rebel hands, the defence was galvanized again. Coincident with the increased activity, a few airborne radar equipments came to hand in Batavia, and these were fitted hurriedly in the B-25's. For the first time the Dutch Air Force had a reasonable chance of intercepting Dwight Schafter on his night flights, and this, of course, was quite unknown to him. They saw him on the radar screen as he was going away one night, the first night they had used it operationally, but on that occasion they were unable to get within fifteen miles of him. They now knew his route, however, and they kept machines from Palembang continuously in the air from then on during the hours of darkness.


    On the fifth night he came again in the Dakota, and they got him.

    It was his habit to fly from Damrey Phong southwards and parallel with the east coast of Malaya and about a hundred miles offshore, checking his course by wireless bearings from the broadcasting stations of Bangkok and Singapore. He flew on on his course to Jogjokarta, the rebel headquarters in Java, passing somewhat to the east of the island of Banka, and it was here that the Dutch fighter first made contact with him. The pilot was under orders not to shoot the intruder down into the sea as it was necessary to get evidence, and so he held the Dakota in his radar and followed about three miles behind for an hour and a quarter till Dwight Schafter crossed the north coast of Java a hundred miles or so to the east of Batavia, making his usual landfall at a distinctive turn of the coast north of Tjerebon. There the Mitchell closed up on him, and shot him down upon the foothills of Mount Tjareme.

    Schafter and Seriot were quite prepared for such a thing to happen; it was one of the occupational hazards of their way of life. The first thing that they knew was a long burst of tracer fire into the port wing. The engine stopped with a rending jerk that shook the machine through; it may have fallen out. Fire broke out immediately from the pierced petrol tanks.

    They had their drill for this contingency all worked out. Both flew in parachute harness. Escape was by the door at the aft end of the cabin, and the cabin was always loaded with an avenue down the middle to provide a clear run. Seriot was flying the aircraft at the time and Schafter was at the navigator's table. Schafter plucked him by the arm and nodded, and then turned and ran aft to snap on his parachute and jettison the door. The brown man at the wheel counted ten slowly, trimming the aircraft as he counted; then he left his seat and ran down the fuselage after his captain, snapped on his parachute, and followed Schafter into the black void below. The Dakota went on for a few seconds burning fiercely, then it fell over in a spiral dive and went down in a shapeless mass of flame. The ammunition started going off before it hit the ground, and for a time made an interesting display upon the forest slopes.


    Seriot reached the ground uninjured, landing in some paddy fields on the edge of the forest. Schafter had bad luck; he fell on the tree tops which checked him, and his parachute collapsed. He was perhaps fifty feet from the ground. The top branches broke beneath his weight after a moment and he fell through the branches to the forest floor, clutching at every branch as he fell. Finally he dropped helplessly from a height of about twenty feet and fell across a root. He broke his thigh in two places.

    That was the end of it for him. That part of Java is fairly well populated and villagers found him before dawn; then the Dutch, moving quickly in trucks, threw a cordon round the district and picked him up without much difficulty. Seriot put on native clothes supplied by the villagers and attempted to get through. to Jogjokarta, but the Dutch were too clever and he was arrested a day later.

    Schafter was now in hospital in Batavia; when he was well enough to appear in court he would be tried and sentenced. Seriot was in jail in Batavia, awaiting trial, but as he was an employee he would not be tried before his captain.

    News of this disaster came to Connie Shaklin at Damrey Phong within twelve hours, by way of broadcast news from Singapore and from Bangkok. He had the Carrier at Damrey, and he was working on it when the news came in. He had a short talk with his two engineers. Clearly the party was over, and all that there was left for them to do was to wind it up and disperse. The only real problem was, what should become of the Cornell Carrier, an 'aeroplane which only a short time before had cost nearly. seventy thousand pounds, and was presumably worth about that figure still.

    In Dwight Schafter's absence, Connie was responsible at Damrey, and he took his responsibilities seriously. He paid the month's wages out of money that had been left with him by Schafter, and went to Bangkok, travelling by fishing vessel up the coast. It took him about four days. In Bangkok he went to the Dutch Embassy and explained the position, well aware that they could not proceed against him upon Siamese territory. He said that there were stocks of fuel, tools, and spares for the Dakota at their base in Indo-China and he wanted instructions from Dwight Schafter


    as to the disposal of these assets, which were the property of this American citizen. He did not tell them anything about the Carrier.

    His request added one more headache to the many headaches that Dwight Schafter had given the Dutch. It was impossible for them to be too high-handed with the donors of Marshall Aid, and the United States consul had already intervened to ensure that this criminal awaiting trial should be imprisoned with all the amenities proper to an American citizen. The question of his assets upon foreign territory was quite outside the jurisdiction of the Dutch. In Java they cogitated over it for twenty-four hours and then decided not to irritate the State Department any further. They instructed their Ambassador to give Shak Lin a visa for a visit to Batavia to interview his boss in hospital, and promised that he would be allowed a safe conduct to depart out of Dutch territory at will. To make assurance doubly sure, Connie Shaklin went to the American Embassy in Bangkok and told them all about it before flying down to Batavia.

    He arrived at the Nederland Hotel the day before I did. When I found him lying on his bed after lunch, he was thinking over his interview in hospital that morning.

    By the time he had told me all this it was three o'clock, and time for me to go to the Arabia-Sumatran office to find out about my return load for the Airtruck. They knew all about me. They had found a load of radio apparatus that had to get back to Holland in quick time for a rebuild; I was to take this back as far as Bahrein and arrangements would be made to get it on to Holland from there. It would be ready for loading into the Airtruck next morning.

    I went back to the Nederland Hotel. Connie was in the room still, lying on his bed. I had been thinking as I walked back through the palm-lined streets by the canal. "Look, Connie," I said. "I've got a proposition to put to you. Let's go downstairs and have a drink, out in the cool." The sun was going down, and it was getting cooler out in the open than it was in the bedroom.

    "Okay," he said. "I've got one for you."

    He put his shirt and trousers on, and came downstairs with me to the open piazza in front of the hotel, with all the little


    tables under sunshades. He wore a pair of khaki drill trousers and a white shirt open at the neck, and sandals. As we turned the corner of the stair I saw his face in profile, lean, Eastern, and ascetic, and I knew what he reminded me of. He looked like a priest.

    He wouldn't touch anything alcoholic, so I ordered fresh lime squash for us both. "Look, Connie," I said, "this is what I had in mind. My show at Bahrein is growing, and the ground side's getting a bit out of hand. I've been looking after that myself so far, with two Asiatic A-and-C's to help me. God knows how it's all going on up there now. Probably not so good. Would you like to come and work for me as chief engineer? I need somebody like you."

    "I'm still working for Dwight Schafter," he said. "I've got his Carrier to look after."

    "He can't go on employing you for long," I said. "From what you tell me he'll get a prison sentence as soon as he comes out of hospital."

    He nodded. "Yes, he will go to prison, probably for years. But that doesn't mean that he won't want to employ me. He's made enough money to employ a dozen people while he serves his sentence, and still be a wealthy man when he comes out. The Dutch can't touch his money. That's not here." He paused. "If he wants me to stay on and serve his interests while he is in prison, I will do so. I would like to come and work for you in Bahrein, Tom. I could help you with your Asiatic engineers and labour. But until Dwight Schafter comes out of prison I will stay with him."

    I took a drink of my lime squash and lit a cigarette. It was no good saying that Dwight Schafter was a mercenary soldier of fortune, about to be sentenced very rightly on a criminal offence, that he had been gun-running for the money there was in it, that he richly deserved all he got. That was the Western way of looking at things, but they seem different to Asiatic eyes. Connie probably liked and respected the man, probably regarded him as one who risked his life and liberty to help millions of Asiatics in their struggle for freedom. When liberty was lost, Connie would not abandon Dwight Schafter.


    I sat there smoking for a time in silence, looking out over the canal to the white buildings on the other side.

    "What's going to happen to the Carrier, Connie?" I asked at last.

    "I said I had a proposition for you," he replied. "Shall I make it now?"
    I glanced at him and nodded.

    "I think you should take over that Carrier and fly it to Bahrein and operate it there," he said.

    Frankly, that thought had never entered my head, although I suppose it might have done. The Carrier was a real aeroplane compared with the small stuff I was operating. I measured my resources in hundreds of pounds at that time, but the Carrier cost more than sixty thousand. It was so far beyond my capabilities that I had never bothered even to consider the economics of operating a thing like that. But now that Connie mentioned it, I knew at once that in the Persian Gulf that aeroplane would pay. It could carry a big truck. It could carry five tons of machinery. It could carry a fair-sized boat, or about ninety pilgrims at a time over Arabia to Jidda for their pilgrimage to Mecca. It was a logical extension of the business I was doing.

    "I couldn't pay for it," I said. "I've not got the money. And what makes you think that Schafter would want to part with it?"

    "What else can he do?
    If he leaves it on the field at Damrey Phong some war lord will turn up before long and take it, and probably crash it. If he has it flown down here, the Dutch will take it from him. If he has it flown back to America, his own Government may take it from him to appease the Dutch. There are not many things that he can do with that aeroplane, if he wants ever to see his money again. But one of the first things he must do is to find somebody now to fly it away out of this area to some other part of the world altogether, and preferably into the British Empire where the laws of property are clearly framed and easy to understand. I think if you could use it, he would charter it to you, provided you would take it to Bahrein and operate it there."

    He paused. "If you did that, I would ask Schafter if I might go with it, and work for you. I think he would agree to that, be-


    cause that aeroplane is by far the greatest of the responsibilities that I now have for him. I think that he would want me to stay with it."

    We talked this over for half an hour, and the more I thought of it the more I liked the idea. I wanted Connie to come and take over the maintenance of my little fleet, and he wouldn't come unless I took the Carrier too. Well, I was willing enough provided that I didn't have to pay for this large aeroplane; anybody would have been. And the way he put it, my fairy godmother was going to give it to me free.

    He got up presently and hailed a rickshaw, and went off in it to the hospital to see Dwight Schafter again before the nurses packed him up for the night. I sat on in front of the hotel in the cool of the evening, smoking and resting, with the fatigue oozing out of me. I was tired. It was very, very good to have found Connie again. It was like seeing a bit of light at the end of a tunnel.

    He came back presently, and found me sitting in the same place. He dropped down into the same chair beside me. "I told Dwight about you and your business at Bahrein," he said. "I said that you would take the Carrier on charter if it was available, and I would go with it to maintain it. He will think it over during the night. He wants you to go and see him early in the morning, before you leave."

    I nodded. "You'll come along?"

    He shook his head. "It will be better if you talk your business with him alone. I am a technical man. I am not interested in money matters."

    "Okay," I said. "One little thing, though. Did you tell him I could fly it?"

    "You can fly it," he replied.

    "It's ten times heavier than anything I've ever flown before, ten times," I said. "I don't want there to be any misunderstanding about that. What happens if I crash it?"

    "You can talk about that with Schafter," he replied. "But I know this, that you will fly it, and you will not crash it."

    I glanced at him, but he was quite serious. He spoke almost as if it was a prophecy. "Oh, you know that, do you?" I replied.


    "More than I do. I'm used to flying things that I land with my arse down on the ground, not twenty feet up in the air. Still, I don't mind having a stab at it if nobody else minds."

    "You will have no difficulty," he said. "It is just like any other aeroplane. They are easier to fly as they get bigger, provided you are not afraid of them. And you will not be afraid."

    I grinned. "It's a long time since I've been afraid of an aeroplane."

    I went to see Dwight Schafter early next morning. He was in a good ward in a normal hospital; the ward sister Was a Dutch-woman, the nurses Javanese girls. The only thing that marked him as a prisoner was a sentry on the door of the ward, a Dutch soldier in American battledress, armed with a rifle. He let me pass to see his prisoner without any question, which relieved me; I had thought that I might have to get all sorts of permits.

    I sat down by Schafter's bed and told him who I was, and he came to the point at once. "Shak Lin said you were here," he said. "He told me about you. Said you wanted to charter my Carrier."

    "I can use it," I said. "But I can't pay much for it. If I'm to take it to my operating base—that's Bahrein, in the Persian Gulf—it's going to cost me six hundred pounds in fuel and oil and landing fees to get it there, as a start. That's got to be recovered out of profits before I can pay you anything at all for the hire."

    "Baloney," he said. "Fuel will cost you nothing. There's over twelve tons of hundred octane fuel in the store at Damrey Phong right now. You can fill her up before you start and take five tons with you in the cabin. That'll get you there. If you don't take it, someone else will. There's oil there, too. The rest is chicken feed."

    "Maybe it's chicken feed to you," I said. "It's not to me. I've got to fly another pilot out to Bangkok to take over the machine I'm flying now. I suppose his fare is chicken feed, too."

    "That Carrier's worth five thousand bucks a month in charter fees," he said.

    "You'd better find someone who can pay that much, then," I replied. "I can't. I'm operating in a small way. You'd better offer it to Pan American."


    "All right, wise guy," he said. "What's your angle on it?"

    We started in then, and in a quarter of an hour we had thrashed out what I still think was equitable in the circumstances. I was to take the machine to Bahrein with any fuel and spares from Damrey that I could carry in it, with Connie Shaklin as my engineer. I was to hold it insured as soon as it reached Bahrein; insurance from Damrey was hardly practical. I was to charter it at the rate of a dollar a month for three months or three hundred hours' flying time after reaching Bahrein, whichever was the least. In that three months Sehafter's attorney in Indianapolis would make contact with me at Bahrein and I would deal with him if I wanted to buy it, or charter it further, or surrender it to him. The machine was not to be flown into Dutch or U. S. territory.

    "Jesus," he said. "I wish some guy had given me a deal like this when I was young. I wouldn't have needed to go flying guns."

    "It's fair enough," I said.

    "Maybe. But you're a darned lucky guy, all the same."

    I left the hospital, and went to the Arabia-Sumatran office, and borrowed a typist, and had copies of our draft charter agreement made, and took them back to the hospital for him to sign. We talked for some time about the flying qualities of the machine; he already knew from Connie that I had no large aeroplane experience. He was more phlegmatic about that than I had thought he would be; from something he said I knew that Connie had given me a good character. "I bring her in about a hundred knots," he said. "Hundred and ten if it's full load or very rough. Take it easy, and you'll find her quite all right. You'll have Shak Lin with you as flight engineer?"

    "That's right," I said. "He'll be with me."

    He turned and glanced at me from the bed. "Say," he said. "You've known that guy a long time, haven't you?"

    "We started off together as boys in the same air circus," I said. "I haven't seen him since those days."

    "Oh . . . Well, he's a good engineer. And he's one you can really trust. You see the way he's come down here to find out what I wanted done. But—say, he's a queer sort of a guy in other ways, isn't he?"