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Round the Bend: Pages 194 through 200

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  • Round the Bend: Pages 194 through 200

    ROUND the BEND
    Nevil Shute, 1951

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


    God be thy guide from camp to camp; God be thy shade from well to well;
    God grant beneath the desert stars thou hear the Prophet's camel bell.
    MAJOR HEREWARD was adamant that Connie had to leave the Persian Gulf. He said that I could see the Resident if I liked, but it was obvious that they had made their minds up. He made it pretty clear, too, that if they had any trouble with me they'd kick me out too. They didn't seem to have a lot of use for any of us, and yet, I think we'd done a useful job while we were there. Perhaps it would have been better if I'd gone into the officers' mess, as I could have done long before. I should have got invited to the Residency parties then, and got alongside them more. Perhaps I had stuck too closely to the job.

    Using his own words, I told him that what he proposed raised rather large issues. "Maybe I shall wind the business up," I said. "The chief engineer is a key man in a thing like this. In any case, I'm not going to decide anything tonight. I may go to London and talk it over with your people there. Mr. Shaklin has done nothing but talk a very harmless and sincere form of religion."

    "Not Christian," he said.

    "No," I replied. "Not Christian. Does that make a difference?"
    He shrugged his shoulders. "I can't enter into that. Where British subjects are concerned, one expects Christianity. However, Mr. Cutter, there it is. I don't want to upset your business unduly,


    but I want Shak Lin out of this district within a fortnight. We can't have him here any longer than that." He got up to go.

    I got up with him. "I understand what you want. I'll think it over and let you know what I'm going to do."

    He went out and got into his car and drove away. I went back to my chair and flopped down into it, tired and depressed. Nadezna came back from the hangar presently, and found me sitting so, staring idly at the pad in front of me, wondering with a dulled brain what I was going to do. She said, "They're all very pleased. Gujar was asking if you're going on the next Bali trip yourself, or if you want Arjan Singh to go with him, or what."

    I could not take in what she was saying. "What's that?" I asked.

    She looked at me curiously, and repeated the question. "Arjan —no—I don't know," I said. "I'll have to think about it."

    "Is anything the matter?" she asked.

    I shook my head; I wanted time to think about things before spilling them to anyone. "I'll be going off in a minute. If you've got the letters I'll sign them now."

    I think it was on that day that my business stopped being fun. Up till then, it had been a game to me. I had made money out of it, it is true, but this had been a paper profit that I had seen nothing of. I was still the same Tom Cutter living with the radio operators as I had when first I came out to Bahrein in the Fox-Moth. I had no more goods, no better clothes or food than in those days. Figures on white typescript sheets might say that I was worth thirty thousand pounds or so, and it was just like any other fiction to me, as unreal as a page in a novel. No Rolls-Royce had yet come my way; I drove a 1940 Dodge station wagon that I had bought in the first year. The only difference in my life was that I had more work even than in those early days, and larger aeroplanes to play with.

    And it had been play. It was a game to all of us in those first years, a game that we all played together as a team. We had all been of the same mind, I think; the fun that we had had in working the thing up together had been the real essence of it. Now, it seemed, the team was to be broken up, and we should go on one man short. Fun is a delicate flower that doesn't stand up very well


    to changes
    of that sort. You can't play about with fun. You can kill fun very easily, as easily as you can kill a wife.

    I didn't sleep much that night. Towards morning I gave up the idea of going to London to argue with the Foreign Office. They would only take the advice of their officials on the spot; I had no prestige, no influence or reputation that would weigh against the vagaries of these foolish people. I was just Tom Cutter, ex-ground engineer, who made too much money to please civil servants. If I had been Sir Thomas Cutter, Bart., deep in debt and divorced three times, I might have commanded some attention in official circles, but as just plain Tom Cutter I hadn't got a hope.

    Connie would have to go to Bali and set up the party there, and Chai Tai Foong must take command of the ground staff at Bahrein in his place. Connie and Phinit to Bali. I reached that conclusion towards dawn and dozed a little then, thinking unhappily of what I had to say to Connie, and how Gujar Singh would react, and all the rest of the party.

    I don't like stalling when there's anything unpleasant to be done. I walked over to the hangar soon after the men came in at half past seven, and called Connie out on to the tarmac. "Look, old boy," I said as soon as I got him out of earshot of the others. "We're in for trouble, I'm afraid."

    He faced me, smiling gently. He had a wonderful smile, that sort of comforted you. His sister had it a bit, too. "I know," he said. "They want to get rid of me. That's it, I suppose?"

    "You've heard about it, then?"

    He nodded. "The Imam came and told me a couple of days ago. That's what Major Hereward came up about last night?"

    "How did the Imam get to know about it?"

    He shrugged his shoulders, still smiling. "The bush telegraph works very well, here in Bahrein. Far better than the Residency know."

    "Those bloody fools," I said bitterly. "I've been trying to think of some way out of this. And I can't think of one."

    "Don't let it trouble you," he said. "I know it's going to be a set-back to the business, but it's no injury to me. It's time that I went on, in any case. I've been here long enough."

    "It's good of you to take it that way," I said. "I don't believe


    you, but it's nice of you to say it. I don't believe you meant to make a change."

    "No," he said thoughtfully. "I wouldn't have left you, just as you wouldn't leave us. But I've done all I can in this place, and I should go on."

    We strolled into the shade of the hangar, for the sun was getting hot already. "I've been wondcring if you'd care to start up Bali for me," I said. "Let Chai Tai Foong go on here in your place, and you go down to Bali with Phinit. There's not a lot of work there, I'm afraid, but it's all I've got to offer."

    He smiled again, that wonderful, comforting smile. "I'll go there," he said. "I'd like to go somewhere for a bit now where there's time to think things out. Bali is what I should have asked for, if you had suggested any change before this happened. It's no injury to me to go there." He paused, and then he said, "There's only one person damaged by this nonsense."

    I glanced at him. "Who's that?"


    "I'm not damaged," I said. "Nothing's happened to me."

    "Nothing that you can't ride over," he said, "because you were born a valiant and courageous man, and you can take hard blows. But you were going to sell this business, weren't you?"

    "I did think of it,"
    I said. "I gave up the idea."

    He nodded. "And with it you gave up England, and wealth, and an easy life in a beautiful place, and love, and the children that you long for. You gave up all these things, and came back to the Persian Gulf. Why did you do that?"

    I stared at him. "How did you know all this?"

    He smiled gently. "You're thinking I've got second sight," he said. "I haven't. Your mother told Gujar Singh about these things, and he told me."

    I stared out along the tarmac of the runway, already shimmering in oily waves of heat. "It didn't seem to be a very good idea to sell the business, after all," I said. "One does what one thinks is for the best."

    "You thought it for the best to give up all the delights of the world, and come back to this hot, barren place of difficulties and


    he observed. "Why did you do that, you hard-headed man? Did you do it for a penance?"

    "I don't know," I said. "If I did, I've got plenty to do penance for."

    "So have all men," he replied. "But all men don't do it."

    "I don't know that I'm doing it either," I said. "As regards selling the business, I very nearly did sell it. I only rejected the idea on final inspection."

    "Half a thou too small," he said. "The difference between Right and Wrong. Half a thou bigger, and it'ld be Right. As it is, it's Wrong, and you can't cheat about it." He smiled again. "Too bad when God gives you the mind of an Inspector, isn't it?"

    I laughed. "You'd better get into the hangar if you're going to talk that sort of stuff."

    He smiled. "I shan't talk my beliefs here very much longer. When do you want me to go?"

    "I'm laying on the first flight down to Bali on Thursday week, provided Maclean Airways can play at such short notice," I told him. "Will you and Phinit come with me on that? I shall take Arian as pilot so that he can learn the route."

    He nodded. "I'll tell Phinit."

    I stood staring out across the wide expanses of the airfield to the sea, revolving all the problems in my mind. "There's your sister," I said. "I suppose she'll go with you."

    He glanced at me. "You'd like to keep her here, wouldn't you?"

    "That's all right," I said. "I can get along without her."

    "No," he said. "I think you'll need her. I think she'd better
    stay here."

    I hadn't got the heart to combat that one. If Nadezna went with Connie, as was only fair and reasonable, my office and my works would be disorganized at the same time. "It's all very well for you to talk like that," I said. "Nadezna's got a mind of her own. She won't want to stay here alone, with you in Bali, about five thousand miles away."

    "I'll have a talk with her," he said. "You didn't run out on us. I don't see why she should run out on you."

    "Don't force her to stay here if she doesn't want to,"
    I said. "I don't want anybody in the party who's unwilling."


    He smiled. "I think she'll want to stay. I don't think you'll find that she's unwilling."

    We stood in silence for a time, for there was nothing else to say. I broke it at last. "I think I'd like to get the Carrier's engine change done before you go," I said. "Give Choi Tai Foong a break when he starts off. I don't want to land a big job like that on him in the first month."

    He nodded. "I was thinking that, myself. You'll send the pair that's in her now to Almaza?" We talked about the details of the engine overhaul for a few minutes, hard, simple facts that were so easy to discuss. Then I turned to go back to the office.

    He strolled a few steps with me. "The Residency want me to go because they're afraid I may make trouble, I suppose?"

    "That's what they said," I replied. "The cockeyed bloody fools."

    "I should never make any trouble," he remarked. "But they will."

    I stood for a moment in thought. "Will there be trouble in the souk because you've been kicked out?"

    "Not while I'm here," he said definitely. "But after I have gone, there may be trouble. Some of them will miss me."

    I shrugged my shoulders. "That's just one of those things."

    "If there should be any trouble," he said, "see that some fool of an officer doesn't go and close the aerodrome with an armed guard. They may want to come up here to say their prayers."

    I laughed shortly. "I'll do what I can. But whether I'll get Major Hereward to see it from that angle, I don't know."

    I went back to the office and drafted a long cable to Eddie Maclean about the Dakota that he was to send to Bali in the following week to meet us there. I was too worried to settle down to office work, and so I went out to the tarmac where Hosein was just about to take off in an Airtruck for El Haura with six lorry wheels fitted with new tyres, and two truck radiators, and put him out of it, and flew the machine myself. It's good to have something physical to do, when you're a bit worried.

    I spent the middle of the day with the repair gang at El Haura, and flew back in the evening with an air compressor set that had got sand where no sand ought to be. I landed shortly before dark and handed the machine over to Connie, and went into the office.


    Nadezna was still there, waiting for me. She had one or two minor matters for me, notices to ground engineers and information circulars.

    I glanced them over. "Okay," I said to her. "You can get off now. No need to wait."

    She hesitated. "I wanted to see you, Mr. Cutter. I've been talking to my brother."

    "Sit down, then." I dropped into my chair myself. "He's told you about everything?"

    "I think so. He's told me that he's got to go to Bali."

    "That's right," I said. "I'm sorry about that, but it's the only thing to do. You'd like to go with him, I expect, wouldn't you?"

    She shook her head. "I'll stay here while you've got a job for me."

    "I thought the only reason you came out here was to be with him."

    "I know it. And now he's got to move on, when I've only been here a month. But all the same, I think I'd rather stay here, for a time, at any rate. If you'll have me."

    I smiled at her. "I'll have you all right. But are you sure you wouldn't rather be with your brother?"

    She shook her head. "I've got a job to do here, and I'm getting interested in it. In Bali I'd have nothing to do at all. It's not as if I shall be out of touch with Connie, either. There'll be machines going and coming to Bali all the time from now on, won't there?" '

    "Oh—yes," I said. "Once a fortnight certainly, and probably more often."

    "If he got ill or anything, could I go to him on one of the trips?"

    "Of course. You can get on one of the machines and go and see
    him any time you like.
    The weight won't make any odds."

    She smiled. "In that case, I'll stay here."

    A point that had been worrying me all through the day while I was flying came back to my mind. "When your brother goes, where are you going to live?"

    "I'll go on where I am," she said.

    "Will that be all right?" I asked uneasily. I suppose after all that time I still had something of an Englishman's dislike and fear of the native quarter of an Eastern town.