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Round the Bend: Pages 21 through 23

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  • Round the Bend: Pages 21 through 23


    ROUND the BEND
    Nevil Shute, 1951

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

    CHAPTER ONE

    21

    thing to say that wouldn't be pleading with her for our marriage, and I was damned if I'd do that.

    I had an arrangement to send her money through the bank, deducted from my salary when it was paid in, and this went on as usual; she still took my fifteen pounds a month in spite of her Polish count with his large estates. I was content to leave the matter so. I was far too busy in those Cairo years of war to bother about any other girl. I used to wonder sometimes if I was married or not, and how it was all going on, and then I'd put it out of my mind. Time enough to start and sort out that one when I got home. I think I felt that so long as she went on taking my money there was nothing that couldn't be ironed out when finally we got together.

    The end of the German war came, and the end of the Japanese war, but there was still a vast amount of transport needed in the Near East, and I had to serve my full time out. It wasn't till the middle of November 1945 that I finally got a date for my air passage home, and then I wrote to her quite shortly and told her I was coming and I'd come and see her at her Dad's house as soon as I landed in England, probably on the Tuesday of the following week.

    I landed in England on the day I'd said, and went up to London on the airline bus. It was pretty late in the afternoon when we got in to Town and I decided to stay in London that night rather than go down to Morden there and then; I didn't want to have to stay in the same house if this Polish officer was living with her or anything like that. I took my bag to a hotel I knew about just off the Euston Road, that wasn't too expensive, and I got a room there.

    I went out and walked about the streets after my tea, down Tottenham Court Road to Cambridge Circus and to Piccadilly. The V-bombs had made a good bit of blitz damage since I was there, but London seemed much the same as ever. I was the one who was different. When I left England I hadn't been too sure of myself; I was good enough on the bench or in the hangar, but it always seemed to me that other people knew much more about the world and business than I did. Coming back after my two years in the East, I felt self-confident. I knew that I could hold

    22

    my job alongside anyone, and teach them a thing or two besides. When I worked in England I was just Torn Cutter in Airservice Ltd. When I left Cairo I'd been Mr. Cutter to everybody for a long time, from the Managing Director down.

    I was looking forward to meeting Beryl again, and I wasn't much worried about this Pole. I reckoned I could sort out that one without too much trouble. She couldn't be married to him, and now that the war was over he'd be going back to his own country. The baby might be a problem, but I don't think I really held that much against her. I was still fond of Beryl and quite prepared to make the best of things and fall in love with her again. There wasn't any other girl.

    I went down by Underground after breakfast next morning and got out at Morden Station and walked up through the streets to her home. It was a fine morning for the end of November, with a pale, wintry sort of sun. I was still in light clothes and a raincoat only, and I remember walking quick, because it was chilly. I went in at the little front garden gate and knocked on the front door, and her young brother came and opened it.
    "Morning, Fred," I said. "Remember me?"

    He hesitated, and I looked at him more closely; it was almost as if he had been crying. And then he said, "Oh, yes. How are you, Tom?"

    "I'm fine," I said. "Beryl in?"

    "Wait a mo'," he said. "I'll go and tell Mum." And with that he turned and fairly scuttled off into the kitchen at the back of the house.

    I waited at the door. It was bound to be a bit awkward for them, but I didn't care; I hadn't made the awkwardness. I could hear a lot of whispering going on in the kitchen and then her mother came out to me, wiping her hands nervously upon her apron. And when I saw her face I knew that she'd been crying, too, and for the first time I felt fear of what was coming.

    "Morning, Tom," she said hesitantly. "You didn't get our letter?"

    I shook my head. "No."

    She opened the door of the sitting room. "Come in here."

    23

    She led the way in. "I wish Father was here to tell you, but he's just stepped out."

    "What is it?" I asked her. I think I knew by that time what it was.

    "It's Beryl," she said. The tears began to trickle down her cheeks. "She did it with the oven, with the gas, some time in the middle of the night when we was all asleep."

    She was weeping unrestrainedly now. "Her Dad told her it'ld be all right," she sobbed. "We all told her. But she was terribly afraid of meeting you."
    ......
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