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Round the Bend: Pages 336 through 341

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  • Round the Bend: Pages 336 through 341

    ROUND the BEND
    Nevil Shute, 1951

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


    Only the road and the dawn, the sun, the wind, and the rain,
    And the watch fire under stars, and sleep, and the road again.
    DAMREY PHONG has grown a bit since then, but the Proctor still stands in the same tin hangar, with the engine that Connie took out of it when he put in the new one standing beside it on an overhaul trestle. He changed the engines before he got too ill to work and got the old one stripped down for overhaul with the sump off and the cylinder heads, cylinders, valves, valve gear, and pistons laid out neatly on a table in rows, all washed and clean and resting on a blanket. He had to give up then and 'he never worked again, and so the job remains just as he left it. The pilgrims file past every day and look at the Proctor and these engine parts laid out behind the wooden railing, and most of them kneel down and say a prayer or two, according to their creed.

    It's not quite the same, of course. Sheikh Fahad went there at a very early stage and had a sort of temple roof, a temple with no walls except the roof posts, built over the whole lot to protect it from the rains, so that the two little European houses and the corrugated iron hangar with the Proctor in it and the very lovely shrine that he set up to hold the casket of ashes are all under the same wide roof and safe for a considerable time. The house that Connie died in is kept just the same, with his bed and his few clothes laid out, all very simple. In the other house there is a small museum, and here his tools are displayed; he had quite a


    lot of fine precision tools and measuring instruments, micrometers, inside micrometers, feelers, thread gauges, callipers, vernier gauges—all that sort of thing. These are exposed to view and may be touched and handled reverently by the pilgrims if they wish, and they are kept so carefully cleaned and greased that they are as bright and new as when he bought them.

    In another room there are five pictures, and nothing else. Fahad, as a Moslem, will have nothing to do with pictures, of course, though I have been there with him and noticed that he spent a quarter of an hour in that room with them. Mr. Ghosh, the Bengal jute merchant, commissioned Evan Stanley to come out from England to paint them, and a committee of the three priests on the airstrip decided that they should be of Connie Shak Lin himself, taken from photographs, and of the four people he loved best. So there is a very good picture of Connie in his stained khaki shorts and shirt, grave and intent, working on the engine of his Proctor which stands in the background of the hangar behind him.

    There is one of Arjan Singh, seated in the pilot's seat of the Proctor. They chose that because so many people had seen Arjan in that six months with Connie, and had seen how carefully he cared for him on that last journey.

    There is one of Nadezna, a very good one. I can hardly bear to look at it.

    There is one of Madé Jasmi, very sweet, but not quite natural because she has her jacket on.

    And there is one of me, which oughtn't to be there at all.

    Things are a bit different at Bahrein, too, on the aerodrome. There was a considerable demand from the people, backed by Sheikh Fahad, that a mosque should be built on the bit of vacant land beside the hangar that Connie had first used for prayers, and that the hangar should continue to be used for civil aviation so that the Moslem engineers should have the mosque available for prayer right by the hangar. This meant that the R.A.F. would have to move away and leave that area undisturbed, although it is right on the edge of their camp. They have been exceptionally understanding and farsighted about all this and have accepted the considerable inconvenience that must result to them. Their new hangars are going up at the south end of the north-south


    runway, nearly a mile away from their camp. The mosque is going up beside the civil aviation hangar.

    A fair number of pilgrim aircraft come to Bahrein, perhaps one a week. Most of these are from Egypt or Iraq, places relatively near at hand, and most of these pilgrims are people who can't afford the long journey to Damrey Phong. Damrey is the main centre for pilgrimages, of course, since it was here that Connie's ministry began and finished, but it's a long way and an expensive journey for them, however much one tries to cut the rates. I have two new Tramps on order now specially fitted for pilgrims, and I hope to get the fares down to about sixty per cent of what one has to charge for a Dakota fare, but it's still an awful lot of money for an engineer to save. And yet they do it.

    Some of them, perhaps one or two machines a month, go further still, right down to Bali, where Phinit shows them the hangar and the hut in Pekendang where Connie lived, and Madé Jasmi still sits quietly weaving her lamaks on the steps, oblivious of the brown people from far lands who have come to see the relics, of which she is one. I told her, through Phinit, when I took her back to Bali, that her service to Connie had been an episode of her youth, tender and lovely to look back upon. Now, I said, she ought to marry a young man of her people, and have children like a normal girl. I told her that, but so far there is no indication at all that she intends to follow my advice.

    Nadezna is in Penang, living in the convent and working with the orphans. She came to some working arrangement with the Mother Superior and the Bishop that allows her to stay there; although she is far from being a Catholic or anything else, as yet, the Bishop seems to have agreed with her desire to be taken out of circulation. Gujar Singh and Arjan go to see her from time to time when a machine night-stops at Penang, and they tell me she is well and happy in her work. But I have not seen her myself since I left Damrey Phong before Connie died, and it may be that I shall never see her again.

    I had several long conferences with Sheikh Fahad and Wazir Hussein in the months that followed Connie's death. I was lonely and troubled, and at first there didn't seem to be much point in going on with anything; I was very tired, and I didn't know what


    to do. I thought of selling out my business, to Airscrvice, perhaps, and going to live at Damrey Phong, for a time anyway. It's quiet there, and one can think about things. But after a time I got settled down, and then it seemed to me that it would be a better thing to carry on the business and run it in the way that Connie liked, so that in a materialistic world my airline should be an example running through Asia to show that men can keep the aircraft safe by serving God in Connie's way, and yet keep on the black side of the ledger. I'd go so far as to say, from my experience, that only by serving God in this way can you keep out of the red.

    So we go on as we did before. Sheikh Fahad is very anxious to do everything he can to help the pilgrims, and after one or two talks he asked me if I could find and operate some very economical machines equipped solely for the job. I borrowed from him, as I had borrowed from his father, the capital to order two new Tramps, short-range machines with rather longer fuselages equipped solely for the pilgrim traffic, and I hope to get these out to the Persian Gulf next month. I think at some time in the future I shall move my main base to Baraka.

    These technical alterations have meant that the delivery time of the two Tramps has been extended to three months. I have taken that time in England as a holiday, leaving Gujar Singh in charge, because it was nearly three years since I had been home, and I was stale, and tired, and nervy. Before I left, Sheikh Fahad told me of his new project, the Six Books.

    I think the Six Books are a very good idea. Already people are beginning to say that Connie was divine, and legends are already growing up about him. They are inventing quite fictitious miracles which he is supposed to have performed, although he never did anything of the sort. Sheikh Fahad's idea is that the people who had most to do with Connie should write down what they know about him in a book, now, while the memory is still fresh and before these stupid legends have had time to grow. In that way proper evidence of what he was and what he did will be set down by people who knew him at first hand. Sheikh Fahad has engaged three scribes who between them speak English and Arabic and Burmese and Siamese and Balinese, to help those who aren't


    very handy at writing to get their evidence down on paper in a coherent form, and to edit all Six Books. When they are all done, the Sheikh is going to have them translated into several Asiatic languages, and possibly into English also, so that men who maintain aircraft and believe in Connie may know exactly what he said and did.

    So first there is to be the Book of the Sister, which will tell us about Connie's early life and about his private life in Bahrein, and about his last months at Damrey Phong.

    Next, there is the Book of Myin, which will tell about his first period at Damrey Phong under Dwight Schafter, when his ministry began.

    The third book is the Book of Tarik,
    which is a very detailed record of his sayings in the hangar at Bahrein. There is good material for this, because Tarik was in the habit of writing down everything he could in penny exercise books, in Arabic, and there are about thirty of these books for the scribes to consult.

    The fourth book is the Book of Phinit, which is an account of Connie's life in Bali, and of Madé jasmi and her love for him.

    The fifth book is the Book of Arian,
    which deals with everything that happened on the six months' tour they made together in the Proctor, in which they visited so many aerodromes while Connie gradually grew weaker.

    The sixth and last book is this one, the Book of Cutter.
    It's obviously right that anybody who can put down on paper any first-hand knowledge of Connie's life should do so, but Fahad asked me to go further than that, and put down anything about my own life that I thought would make the picture complete, and explain to future generations why I did the things I did which ultimately reacted upon Connie. So I have put down everything that I could think of that would make the story a complete one, and if Fahad's editors find any part of it unnecessary they can cut it out.

    I have been glad to have this three months at home in England, in our little house in Southampton between the gasworks and the docks. Dad goes out to work each day, of course, and Mum is busy about the house and in the kitchen, and I have been able to write quietly all day in the back bedroom that we all slept in


    as boys. It's a good thing to get out of the East for a job like this, because you can look back and see what happened in perspective, and that helps.

    Mum and Dad want me to stay in England now and find a job here. They don't think the East has done me any good, and that's rather sad, because I think it's done me all the good in the world. I know that I don't think about things now in quite the same way as I used to, and that in England people think me a bit queer. I know that in the aircraft industry there's a good deal of talk about my operations based upon the garbled tales that have got through to England. People are saying that I've been out in the East too long, and I've gone round the bend. Maybe I have, but then, I think that being round the bend is the best place to be. So I shall go back to Bahrein as soon as these two Tramps are ready for delivery.

    And now, at the conclusion of this book, I still don't know what to think about Connie. To me he was always an ordinary person, a good friend from my youth, a very fine engineer, a very good man. He's still that to me—I think. But as I have sat here for the last three months in our back bedroom, writing down everything that I can remember about him, and meditating, I am beginning to wonder if I have been right. So many men, of so many races, are now turning to the memory of him, moulding their lives upon his example, praying that they may be made as he was. Could any human man exert such influence after his death? What makes a man divine?

    I can't answer my own questions. I still think Connie was a human man, a very, very good one—but a man.
    I have been wrong in my judgments many times before; if now I am ignorant and blind, I'm sorry, but it's no new thing. If that should be the case though, it means that I have had great privileges in my life, perhaps more so than any man alive today. Because it means that on the fields and farms of England, on the airstrips of the desert and the jungle, in the hangars of the Persian Gulf and on the tarmacs of the southern islands, I have walked and talked with God.
    Table of Contents
    ............Round the Bend