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Round the Bend: Pages 281 through 290

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  • Round the Bend: Pages 281 through 290

    ROUND the BEND
    Nevil Shute, 1951

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


    Chronic Myelogenous Leukaemia, indicated by the blood count figures above. From the number of primitive white cells present the disease would seem to be entering an acute phase.
    That, with a signature, was all there was.

    I looked at Hussein. "Well, this doesn't mean a thing to me," I said. "What is Myelogenous Leukaemia? I've never heard of it."

    "Dr. Khaled tells us that it is a disease of the blood," he said. "It is a very bad disease."

    "How bad?" I asked. "What's the treatment?"

    He turned and spoke to the doctor in Arabic. It was evidently the continuation of a discussion that had, perhaps, been gone over many times. The doctor spoke emphatically with some gesticulation, but he spoke Arabic with a strange accent to me and he spoke quickly, so that I could not get very much of what he said.

    The Wazir turned back to me. "It is a long and complicated treatment," he said. "It needs X-rays to cure it, and very modern things that are not found in many cities of Asia. It would be better that Shak Lin should go to Europe, Dr. Khaled says. He can arrange the necessary treatment in Paris."

    "I see," I said. I sat in thought for a few minutes. There was no question of expense in my mind, or of the work. Connie's job at Bali was a sinecure that could be done by any good reliable engineer. If this thing was serious he must come straight back to Bahrein and go on to Paris or to London for his treatment; I could get him back to England from Bahrein in a couple of days.

    I raised my head and spoke to the Wazir. "He shall certainly go to Europe for his treatment if he's really got this thing," I said. "If we get him back to Karachi for a start, could we have him properly investigated at the hospital there in the light of this report, to get a second opinion?"

    Dr. Khaled said that could be done.

    "The next thing," I said to Wazir Hussein, "is just this. Will he come?"

    "He will come if you say that he must come," the Wazir said. "I think that you are right. He would not change his way of life or travel to Europe for his health, for himself alone. But if you


    say he must do that for reasons of your business, I think he may agree."

    I bit my lip. I wasn't a bit sure, myself. Connie was so much a part of the East that it was difficult to visualize him as a patient in a hospital ward in London or in Paris, in countries where he had no friends at all, where nobody had any reverence for him. "I think the first thing to do is to get him back to Karachi for a proper examination," I said at last.

    Dr. Khaled spoke quickly to the Wazir. As I had thought, he could understand English all right, though he was reluctant to try to speak it. The Wazir turned to me. "My master wishes to spare no expense," he said. "If he is to come to Karachi for examination, it would be better that a specialist should come from Paris or London to examine him at Karachi, in the hospital. My master insists that he should have the best advice." He paused, and then he said, "This has been a great trouble to my master, this news of El Amin."

    I said, "It is a great trouble to me, too." I sat in thought for a moment. "It's bad luck that the Tramp left this morning for Bali," I said. "It will be back here in nine days, and going down again"— I glanced at the calendar—"on the fourteenth. To get him back here on this trip means I must try and explain the situation to him in a telegram, and persuade him to come back to hospital at Karachi. That's not going to be very easy."

    Wazir Hussein asked, "If he came by the next trip, when would he reach Karachi?"

    "On the 22nd or the 23rd," I said. "It means he wouldn't reach Karachi for about three weeks from now."

    We discussed this for a time. If he could be induced by skilfully worded telegrams to come back to Karachi with the present trip he could be there in about seven days' time. It was doubtful if the Arabs, with all the power of their wealth, could get a specialist from Europe there so soon as that. They would have to write to their agents in London and the letter would take three days; the man then had to be found and induced to leave his work in London or Paris to fly to Karachi. No specialist of any repute would leave his other patients in midair and unattended, whatever the fee paid. It seemed to us that such a man would need at least a


    week to settle his affairs before coming out to Karachi, and then the flight would take at least two days. It would be a fortnight at the earliest before he could be there.

    Dr. Khaled, pressed by the Wazir, said that he did not think that El Amin's physical state would alter very greatly in a fortnight. The disease was probably getting worse, and if unattended death might well occur in a year or eighteen months. Since the specialist could hardly reach Karachi for at least a fortnight, if Connie came on the next trip the greatest time that would be lost would be one week.

    We decided that that would be the best course, that he should come back upon the following trip. Wazir Hussein said, "Will you write him a letter?"

    "Yes," I said slowly. "I'll write to him by air mail." I thought quickly. "It can go by Orient Airways tomorrow to Karachi, and I'll get the pilot to see that it gets on to the K.L.M. for Batavia there." I knew that any letter for Shak Lin would get whatever special treatment was required. "Wazir," I said. "Would your master, the Sheikh of Khulal, write a letter to El Amin, too? We shall have difficulty in persuading him to leave his work and come to Karachi to hospital. I know a letter from your master would have weight with him."

    He nodded gravely. "It shall be done. I shall bring it here tomorrow after sunrise, so that it can go with yours."

    Dr. Khaled said something, and the Wazir turned to me after a brief exchange. "It would be well that we should be certain that El Amin will come to Karachi," he said. "Perhaps it would be better that the specialist should go direct to Bali."

    But Bali had no technical facilities such as Karachi hospital had. We talked about that for a time. "I tell you what I'll do," I said. "I'll take the next trip down to Bali myself, as pilot. If his sister wants to come, I'll take her, too. Then we'll bring him back with us to Karachi and meet the specialist there."

    That settled that, and they went away, and I walked over to the hangar, not because I had anything to do there but because I wanted to get out of the office for a few minutes to think over how I was to tell this to Nadezna. I went back presently and called her in from the other office, and when she came, I said, "Bit of


    bad news, Nadezna. They did a blood count at Karachi. It seems that Connie's got a thing they call leukaemia."
    And then I told her all about it.

    She took it amazingly well. Asiatics do take these things well, of course; they never show their grief by any extravagant display of emotion. All she said was, "That's fatal, isn't it? He's going to die?"

    I was from the West, and perhaps we kid ourselves more than they do. "Oh, it's not as bad as that," I said. "He'll have to go into hospital for some sort of treatment, possibly in Europe. He'll be all right."

    She shook her head. "I think this is the end of it," she said. "I've heard about this thing."

    "What have you heard?" I asked.

    "There's no cure for it at all," she said quietly. "They may take you into hospital and mess you about, but once you've got it, you die just the same."

    "I can't believe that's true," I said.

    "I think it is."

    I turned the subject and told her about the letter I was going to write. She agreed that Connie ought to come up to Karachi and be properly examined, and she said that she would write as well. And then I said, "Look, Nadezna, I think I'll go down to Bali myself again on the next trip, probably with Hosein as second pilot. I think it may take a bit of arguing to get him to come. Will you come with me this time?" I hesitated. "It's not the holiday I wanted it to be, but I think it'ld help if you came. And then we can take him straight back to the hospital at Karachi."

    She said quietly, "You can't go away again so soon, Tom. You've only just come back."

    "There's nothing for me to do here," I said. "The business runs all right without me."

    "Does it?" she asked. "I don't believe it does." And then she said, "I sometimes wonder who this business is supposed to benefit, you or Connie."

    "I make money out of it," I said.

    She smiled. "No, you don't. I've never seen you spend a penny,


    except on other people. You could live in a big house with plenty of servants and run a Bentley. But you don't. You go on living in the chummery and the sergeants' mess, and you drive a station wagon. You don't make money at all, Tom. You make aeroplanes, that's what you do. Every penny that you make goes back into the business."

    "What if it does?" I asked. "I like aeroplanes. I wouldn't want a Bentley, anyway."

    "I suppose you'll tell me next that you're going down to Bali again because you like flying in the Tramp."

    I laughed. "Many a true word." And then I said, "Will you come with me for the joyride?"

    She said, "Dear Tom. You've never quite got used to having me around, have you?"

    "No," I said. "I don't suppose I ever shall. It's a fresh wonder every day I come into the office, to find you here."

    She smiled, and smiling she was very lovely. "All right, Tom. I'll come to Bali with you, and we'll do what we can for Connie."

    After that, our life at Bahrein went on smoothly for a few days. I saw Wazir Hussein again and heard of the energetic steps that he was taking to get a specialist out to Karachi. These efforts finally resulted in them getting a Frenchman called M. Serilaud who seemed to be the authority on leukaemia in Europe; Dr. Khaled said that he had worked in New York and in London and spoke English fluently, which was a help. The earliest that we could get him to Karachi was the 27th, which gave us a good margin of time to get Connie there to meet him.

    I rang up Captain Morrison, and he came to see me one evening, and I told him everything that was going on. He was friendly and helpful, and said that if I wanted to bring Connie back to Bahrein there would be no difficulty from their end at all. He indicated that he, personally, would welcome his return as a gesture that would help to heal the breach that had arisen with the Sheikh of Khulal.

    Inevitably, the news got round in the souk that Shak Lin was ill, and was coming to Karachi for examination. I don't know how these things get out in Asiatic places; I didn't tell anyone, and I don't suppose the Arabs in the Sheikh's retinue did much talk-


    ing, though they may have done. In any case, it was all known in the town within a day, and Nadezna told me that wherever she went, in the streets, in the market, in her house, there were continuous enquiries. After a day of this she had to give up going out into the streets, and I sent the station wagon down to pick her up each morning and drive her home in the evening.

    On the ninth of the month the Tramp arrived back from Bali, dead on schedule. It came in and landed about three o'clock in the afternoon. I walked out on to the tarmac to meet it when it came in. The five passengers got out and were met by a young man from the oil company, and then Arjan came out and walked across to me. He said that they had had a good trip, with no special incidents; there had been bad weather over Sumatra which had delayed them half a day on the outward journey, but on the homeward trip they had got through the inter-tropical front without much trouble. And then he said, "I have letters for you, from the Governor and from Shak Lin. I will fetch them and bring them to the office."

    "Okay," I said, and I went back to the office myself, because it was hot out on the tarmac. Arjan Singh appeared in the office in a few minutes and laid them on my desk, and then he went through into the other room, perhaps to speak to Nadezna or Dunu. I opened the first letter.

    It was from the Dutch Governor in Bali. It ran:
    Dear Sir,

    It is with regret that I write to say that the continued residence of your engineer Shak Lin in Bali is no longer acceptable to the Royal Netherlands Government of Indonesia.

    I must demand that this man is removed from Bali very soon, and should be replaced by another engineer with neutral religious associations.
    B. Hausmann, Governor.
    I bit my lip, and read it through again. Then I opened the one from Connie. He said that by that time I should have received a letter from the Governor ordering him out of Bali. He was sorry


    that this had happened, and that it was not due to any action on his part, but due to circumstances out of his control that Arjan Singh could tell me about. He thought that it would be better now that he should leave my service, and he suggested that I should send down another engineer to work with Phinit by the next machine. He himself would leave on the same aircraft, and he proposed to make his way to Bangkok.

    At the time he wrote that letter, of course, he hadn't received our air mail letters to him about leukaemia.

    I got up heavily and went into the other office. Arjan Singh was there talking to Nadezna; she had an open letter in her hand. From her face I guessed that she had had the same news. I did not want to talk about it in front of Dunu; I told Arjan and Nadezna to come into my office, and when the door was shut and they were sitting down, I asked,

    "What's all this about, Arjan? This trouble down at Bali?"

    He said, "Two Dakota loads of pilgrims."


    He said, "Three days after you left Bali, a Dakota came to Bali from Bangkok. It was chartered from the Thai-Cambodia airline by a party of about thirty ground engineers from Don Muang. Most of them were engineers, but some I think were from the Siamese Air Force. They came to visit Shak Lin and to pray with him. They went away after one day. Then another Dakota came, with Indians from Allahabad and Calcutta. The Dutch administrators were angry, and they say that you should not have sent a man with a religious following to Bali. They do not encourage missionaries in Bali; they prefer that the people should continue in their own religion.
    The Governor gave me that letter to give to you." He paused. "That is all I know."

    I was silent for a time. Then I said, "Did you hear of any other machines going to Bali with pilgrims?"

    He replied, "I heard talk at Karachi airport that a Dakota was leaving very soon, with pilgrims. I told them that it was forbidden, but they said that Shak Lin was ill. I think they mean to go."

    "They mustn't go," I said. "When did you hear this?"

    "Last night—and this morning."

    In favourable conditions, usually late at night, we could get


    Karachi from Bahrein on the radio telephone. In a case such as this, Alec Scott would probably let me speak to Karachi myself. I might be able to stop that machine from leaving.

    "Who pays for all this?" I asked. "It must cost somebody a packet."

    Arjan said, "I asked that, also. The machine from Bangkok was provided by the Thai-Cambodia for a nominal charge only—one hundred rupees, somebody said. The engineers at Bangkok had agreed that each would work ten hours on the machine without pay in the next month, so that the servicing and life of the aircraft should not suffer. The pilots flew without pay, of course, being pilgrims themselves. The engineers serviced the machine upon the flight without pay. All the expenses to be met were petrol and oil, and insurance, and landing fees. They say that each man had to pay two hundred and fifty rupees. Some of them had not got the money, and their companies advanced wages to them so that they could join the flight, and they would work the time off later, so much in each week, to repay the loan."

    Two hundred and fifty rupees is about twenty pounds. It was a big sum for an Asiatic engineer, but it was by no means prohibitory, and if the airline companies were prepared to help their men to go off on a trip like this by allowing them to work the advanced pay off over several months, it might be that many such journeys would take place. I already had abundant evidence that Shak Lin's teachings had spread widely through the East and had resulted in a marked up-grading in the quality of aircraft maintenance. If the employees of an airline wanted to go off on such a pilgrimage, a worth-while manager would encourage the project and make it easy for them to go, knowing that such a religious experience would encourage the men and lower his maintenance costs. If my own people had come up with such a proposition I should probably have taken that line myself. There was no telling now where this thing would end.

    "What started this, Arjan?"
    I asked at last. "What put the idea into their heads? We've never had anything like this happen before."

    He said, "It was the Sheikh of Khulal's pilgrimage."


    "I see. . . . They saw that trip go through, and thought they'd do the same?"

    "Also,". he said, "the word got around by radio that Shak Lin is dying." By my side Nadezna stirred, and then was quiet again. "I do not know if that report is true or not," Arjan went on. "But it is all over the East now, that Shak Lin is a dying man. And so, on all the aerodromes, engineers who work according to his teaching but have never seen him—such men desire more than any earthly thing that they should see Shak Lin before he dies, and hear his voice, and hear his blessing on their work. This is a thing that many men want more than anything else in the world."

    "So we're likely to get a good many more Dakotas going to Bali," I said thoughtfully.

    "I do not think that they will be able to go now," he said. "I think the Dutch will stop them. It is too far for a Dakota to fly from Singapore to Bali without landing for fuel, and when they land, at Palembang or at Batavia or Sourabaya, I think the Dutch will stop them. I do not think that such machines will get clearance from Singapore now, any more, to fly to Indonesia."

    That seemed likely enough, though whether the authorities at Singapore would have the power or the will to raise a hornet's nest by standing between Dakota-loads of resolute pilgrims and their religious goal seemed to me to be doubtful. Arjan Singh was obviously tired with his eight days' flying, and I let him go soon after that, telling him that I was going to take the next trip down myself with Hosein as co-pilot. He was pleased to hear that I was going down myself again. "I think that is very good," he said. "I think it will be good that you should be with the Teacher at this time, for a few days."

    "How is he taking it all, Arjan?" I asked. "Is he very much upset?"

    He said a little pityingly, "Was he upset when he left here, Mr. Cutter? He is not like ordinary men. Nothing that is written for him can cause him to grieve. Only the errors of mankind do that." He paused, and then he said more practically, "There is a woman there who serves him, Madé Jasmi. She sees that he lacks nothing, does not grow too tired. I think she will attain a great advancement in the life to come."


    He went away to eat and rest, and I was left alone in the office with Nadczna.

    She said, "Poor old Connie—to be kicked out of a second place, for his religion! And when we've just written to him about leaving, and telling him about the blood count. It's too bad, Tom."

    "I know," I said. "He doesn't have much luck." And then I said, "He's going through a bad patch now, of course, but he'll get through all right. I suppose it was a mistake sending' him to Bali, though it didn't seem like it at the time. After he's got rid of this leukaemia thing we'll see if we can find a place for him where they'll like his religion. Somewhere in Burma or Siam would suit him best, I think. A Buddhist country."

    She smiled faintly. "But, Tom, he's not in your employment any more. He's resigned."

    I said quickly, "He can't do that to me, after being with me all this time. I'm going to send him a cable now to say I won't accept his resignation."

    "You won't accept the fact that he's dying, either, will you?"
    she asked.

    "No," I said, "I won't. I won't accept that any more than I'll accept his resignation. He's going to get well."

    She came over to where I was sitting, and bent down and kissed me. I stood up and held her in my arms for a minute. "It's going to be all right," I said. "There are times when things are a bit of a battle, and this is one of them. But it's going to be all right."

    We broke away presently, and I sat down and wrote a cable to Connie. I said:
    Won't accept your resignation now or ever. Coming down myself next trip with Nadezna to take you to Karachi; specialist arrives Karachi 27th. After treatment have new job for you in Siam.
    Nadezna stared at this. "What is this new job in Siam?" she asked.

    "I haven't thought it out yet," I said frankly. "I'll have it cut