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Round the Bend: Pages 165 through 170

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  • Round the Bend: Pages 165 through 170

    ROUND the BEND
    Nevil Shute, 1951

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


    To Meccah thou host turned in prayer with aching heart and eyes that burn:
    Ah, Haul, whither wilt thou turn when thou art there, when thou art there?
    I GOT a cable from Gujar Singh on Tuesday evening, in reply to mine. He said that there was no immediate trouble likely to arise in Bahrein, largely due to the Imam, who had visited the aerodrome and had himself conducted evening prayer outside the hangar one day; this service had been attended by about a hundred people from the town. The Liaison Officer had been up at the aerodrome that afternoon, but had taken no part in the proceedings. He said that according to the gossip in the souk the people in the Residency were still very much upset about the loan. There was no reason why he should not come to England, however, and he proposed to leave on Friday as arranged.

    I met him at Heath Row airport on Saturday evening when he came in on the Constellation from Australia, and drove him down to Southampton in the little Ford. Gujar had never been in England and this was a great thrill for him; he was amazed at the fertility of the country. "I did not know it was like this," he said. "I had read about the green grass and the fields, and seen pictures and the cinema, of course, but even so, I did not know it was like this."

    He created quite a sensation amongst the kids in our street when he got out of the car. I had no need to apologize to him


    for our house because he knew quite well that I was a working man, and my father too, and anyway the house was probably a better one than the one he lived in in Bahrein. I took him in and introduced him to Dad and Mum, and fixed him up in the top bedroom, and then we all had tea together downstairs.

    Dad and Mum took to Gujar, as I had thought they would. Once you got accustomed to the great black beard and the turban Gujar was all right, and before long he was telling Mum all about his kids. He didn't drink or smoke, of course, so it was no good taking him down to the Lion, and so we sat at home all evening, just talking.

    He confirmed that there was no cause for alarm about the doings in Bahrein, largely due to the statesmanlike action of the Imam. He said that he had called at the office of the Arabia-Sumatran Company after a telephone call with Mr. Johnson, and there were developments there. As I had supposed would happen, they wanted to transfer a load of scientific equipment and three technicians from Bahrein to their new oil field on the East Alligator River in the Northern Territory of Australia, and they wanted a date as soon as possible for the flight. The load totalled about three tons, so it would have to be either the Carrier or the Tramp. Gujar had discussed my absence and the Tramp delivery with them, which they already knew about, and had quoted a date about three weeks ahead, which would give me about ten days in Bahrein after I got back before leaving on this journey. Being a flight over new ground, he knew that I would want to go myself.

    I took him for a joyride next day in the little Ford, finishing up at Portsmouth and taking him over the Victory, Nelson's flagship berthed for ever in her dry-dock in the middle of the dockyard. He was very much impressed with that.

    Next day we went by train to Plymouth. The Tramp was standing ready for us on the aerodrome, clean and new and shining. With the sales manager we got into it and inspected it all through, and then, with one of the test pilots flying it and myself in the co-pilot's seat, we took it off and flew round a bit. After a landing or two we changed seats, and with Gujar standing behind us I took it off and landed it a couple of times. It handled rather better than the Carrier; everything worked and everything was


    right. We spent an hour on the ground then checking over the inventory, and paid the final cheque. Then the machine was mine.

    We stayed that night at Plymouth in the firm's hotel, and spent a couple of hours next morning buttoning and unbuttoning every cowling with the firm's engineers, getting to know the aircraft intimately. Then we said good-bye to those efficient people, and took it off, and flew it down to Eastleigh. We landed there about dinner time, and I took a taxi and went home and fetched Dad and Mum out to the aerodrome as soon as Dad got home from work, and showed it to them.

    Dad stared up at it in awe. "Bit different from the first one, Torn," he said. What impressed Ma most, I think, was the toilet in the rear fuselage. "I declare, it's nicer than what we've got at home . . ." she said. I don't think the rest of the machine really registered with her; it was too big and too complicated for her to take in. "All those clocks and things in front of you," she said. "However do you get to know what they all mean?"

    While I had been fetching them out, Gujar had had the Tramp refuelled; she had tankage for twelve hundred gallons, giving her a still air range of about two thousand miles. I was taking a small load out with me, a spare engine for the Proctors and one for the Airtrucks, and a few airframe spares, and he had got all this stuff loaded in. When we left her that night and went home with Dad and Mum we were all ready to go.

    We got up at four in the morning, and Mum got up and cooked us breakfast. Then the taxi was there, and it was time to go. I went and said good-bye to Dad in bed. "Look after yourself," I said. "No more of that pneumonia," and he said, "Get on with you," and that was our parting.

    I went down and kissed Mum. "Good-bye, Tom," she said. "Don't be so long away this time." She was crying a little, a thing I never saw Mum do before, but she was getting old.

    "I'll try not to, Mum," I said quietly. "Cheer up. I'll be back before long." And as I said that, I couldn't help remembering Beryl, because that was what I'd said to her.

    It's bad when you've got to say good-bye.

    Thirty-four hours later I put the Tramp down on the runway at Bahrein, a bit different to that first journey in the Fox-Moth. As I


    taxied in towards the hangar all the staff came crowding out to see the new machine.

    Although I was still sick at leaving Mum and home, it was good to be back.

    Connie was there to meet us, of course. I left the clearing up of the pilot's duties to Gujar Singh, and walked down the length of the vast cabin and opened the rear door and got out on the hot tarmac. It was mid afternoon, late in May, and Bahrein was warming up; the heat hit me like a blow. "Afternoon, Connie," I said. "Well, here's your baby."

    He grinned. "Looks a nice job. Have any trouble on the way out?"

    I shook my head. "Not a thing. Just kept going." We moved away and looked up at the engine nacelles; there were no oil leaks and everything was factory clean. "I think she's quite all right."

    I turned to him. "How have things been here?"

    "Okay," he said. "Mr. Johnson rang up yesterday to ask if we'd be able to do that flight to Australia. I told him I thought you were on the way, and that you'd give him a ring as soon as you got in."

    I nodded. "I'll ring him this afternoon."

    "Which one will you take—this or the Carrier?"

    "Carrier ready?"

    He nodded. "She's got about two hundred and eighty hours to go before the engine change, but that's plenty."

    "I think I'll take this one," I said slowly. "I'd like to get to know her. I don't think I'll take the Carrier through the Dutch Indies till I've got to. You never know."

    I strolled into the hangar with him and had a look at the maintenance that had been going on in my absence. Everything was in apple pie order, as I had known it would be. I didn't keep him very long because I knew he would be wanting to get on to the new machine, and I had a mass of stuff waiting for me in the office.

    "Okay," I said. "Better get that one inside and give her a check over. There's a sort of family bible of maintenance schedules for her, with the log books. Gujar knows about it. If you get started on that, I'll be out as soon as I've had a look in the office."


    He hesitated. "My sister arrived the day before yesterday," he said. "Would you like to see her in the morning?"

    I had forgotten about her. "Oh—yes. She'd like a job with us?"

    "I think she would. There's nothing for her to do here unless she works."

    "Where's she staying?" I wasn't quite sure how much of an Asiatic this girl was.

    "That's all right," he said. "I've got her a room alongside mine, in the same house."

    I wasn't quite sure how he lived, or where, except that it was somewhere in the souk near Gujar Singh.
    "That's all right for her, is it?"

    "Oh, yes. She won't come to any harm."

    If he was satisfied, it was no concern of mine how the girl lived. "Shorthand typist?"


    "Fine," I said. "Tell her to come up tomorrow morning, and I'll give her a tryout. Two months I said, didn't I?" He nodded. "Well, no hard words if I boot her out at the end of it."

    He grinned. "I've told her that."

    "All right. What's her name?"


    I stared at him. "How much?"


    "How do you spell it?"

    He spelt it out for me. "Nadezna," I said. "That's a new one on me."

    "It's a Russian name," he said. "It means Hope."

    "Does it! I never knew anyone with a Russian name before."

    He smiled. "Well, you know me. Constantine is Russian. Our mother was a Russian, so we both had Russian names. She met my father at a place called Barkul; he was a silk merchant from Canton. She'd done something in Russia and the Tsarist police were after her. She married my father in Barkul and they went down to Shanghai, and then they emigrated and got settled down in Penang. I was born in Penang. Old Mutluq bin Aamir here, the chap whose house I live in—he's a silk merchant and he knew my father."


    "Where's Barkul?" I asked.

    He smiled. "Now you're asking something. It's right in the middle of Asia somewhere, but I don't know where. In Sinkiang, I think. It's somewhere about a thousand miles northwest of Shanghai."

    "I've never heard of it before," I said.

    "No. Nor has anybody else."

    I turned away. "Well, tell your sister to come up tomorrow morning. Nadezna. I'll have to write that down."

    I went into the office to the babu clerk. He had done his best while I was away, but there was a great pile of invoices and statements and A.R.B. notices and Notams and applications for jobs and correspondence about spares and payments, over a foot high. I shuffled through this mass of stuff hoping to God this girl was going to be some good, and then I rang up Johnson of the Arabia-Sumatran.

    He said, "Glad to hear you, Cutter. Gujar Singh told you about this flight we want on the 6th?"

    "Oh, yes," I said. "We've got all that laid on. I'll go with him myself, in the new aircraft. When are you coming down to see it, sir?"

    "I want to meet you," he said. "There have been some developments; if this first trip to the East Alligator goes all right, we may want more. We might even have to have something like a regular service."

    "I'd better come and see you," I said. "When shall I come?"

    He thought a minute. "I'd like to see your new machine," he said. "I'll come over late tomorrow afternoon."

    I settled down to plough through the pile of papers that had accumulated for me. When you run a show like mine that's what you have to do; you fly all day and come into the office tired with the strain, and start off on the real work. I'd been at it for about half an hour when a car drove up and parked outside. It was the Liaison Officer, Major Hereward. He hadn't wasted much time in coming up to see me; I suppose they'd seen the Tramp flying over on the circuit as I came in to land.

    Hereward was an Indian Army officer, or had been at one time. He wasn't a bad sort, but I'd had very little to do with him.