Round the Bend: Pages 24 through 30
ROUND the BEND
Nevil Shute, 1951
```(annotated and with added blue highlights by al-Brunardot)
—And I was but a dog, and a mad one to despise
The gold of her hair, and the grey of her eyes.
THERE WASN'T any count, of course, and there weren't any estates at Jabinka or anywhere else. Captain Wysock had disappeared one day, and her Dad had gone up to London to the Polish Embassy after a time to ask about him. He found that he had been drafted out to Italy. He had been a waiter at a hotel in Warsaw before the war, and he'd got a wife and family out there. They never heard any more of him. The ring was genuine enough, and was worth about sixty quid. I often wonder where that came from.
He beat it soon after the baby was born, in February or March. Her Dad wanted to write and tell me, but Beryl wouldn't let him. I think she was too proud to want to come crawling back to me as soon as he'd left her flat. She told her people straight to let her affairs alone; she'd sort them out in time the way she wanted to. So they shut up, and probably that was the best thing.
They told me that they thought that in a general sort of way she'd been looking forward to me coming home, although she didn't tell them much. When my letter came, however, saying that I'd be home in a week, they said she seemed to go all to pieces. First she wanted to go away and not meet me, and then there wasn't anywhere convenient for her to go to, and then she said she'd have to meet me some time so she'd better get it over. They said she didn't know what to do. She wasn't sleeping much,
they thought. She'd come down to breakfast one day and say she'd made up her mind to go away, and then by dinner time, they said, she seemed to have forgotten about that and was wondering if the butcher would put by a sheep's heart for them, because she said I was always partial to heart for dinner if it was on the menu at the canteen.
They said that she was much calmer on the last day, sort of quietlike, and they went to bed quite happy about her. They never heard anything in the night. The baby slept in her room, of course, and at about six in the morning they heard it crying, which was normal, but as she didn't get up and attend to it her Ma got up after a bit and went in, and she wasn't in her room, and she hadn't been to bed. Her Ma called her Dad and went downstairs, and when they opened the door the kitchen was full of gas. Her Dad held his breath and dashed in and turned it off at the oven, and opened the back door and got out into the garden, and then they had to wait a quarter of an hour before they could get in to her. Her Dad went down the road to the call box and telephoned the police.
She had put a cushion in the oven and put her head on that, and laid down to die. She had a copy of The Picturegoer in her hand, open at an article about Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding, the great lovers.
There was no letter, or anything like that.
Her father was inclined to be apologetic to me. "I dunno if we should have written to tell you, after he went off," he said. "At the time it seemed the best thing to let time go by a bit, like. We knew you'd be home before so long, and we thought things'ld settle down. . . ."
To comfort him I said, "I couldn't have done much, if I'd known." And while I said it, of course, I knew that I was lying. I could have done one thing. I could have written and told her that I loved her.
They had the inquest the day after I arrived, and I went to that with her Dad and Mum. Her Dad had to give evidence about our marriage and this Captain Wysock, and the baby, and me coming home, and how he found her. The coronet asked me if I'd written to her lately, and I said no, and told him about the
first letter when I said I wasn't going to divorce her till she'd thought it over a bit longer. The doctor gave formal evidence about the cause of death, and then the coroner summed it all up.
"We have here one of those unfortunate cases for which the war is largely responsible," lie said. "The evidence is perfectly clear. The deceased woman was unfaithful to her husband during his absence overseas, and gave birth to a child born out of wedlock. She was deserted by her lover, himself a married man, so that in any event no divorce and marriage with her lover would have been possible. Her husband stems to have behaved with commendable restraint and wrote nothing to her which would have led her to take her life, and her family appear to have treated her with sympathy and understanding. The deceased appears to have been the victim of her own conscience, and as the time for the return of her husband drew near she became mentally upset. I find that the deceased committed suicide while the balance of her mind was temporarily deranged."
He turned to us with fishlike, stupid eyes blinking behind his spectacles. "I must express my sympathy with the husband and the parents of the deceased woman." With her Dad and Mum I said, "Thank you, sir," mechanically, and as I did so indignation rose in me that such a fool should be a coroner. Because I killed her, slowly, like a chap might do with small doses of arsenic over a period of years. I started killing her when I married her without giving her a home.
A bit was said about the baby, and a woman, a police court missionary or somebody like that, came up and talked about it to her Dad and Mum. They wanted to keep it and bring it up as a grandchild, which of course it was, and that seemed the best thing to do. Then the inquest was over, and we went back for the funeral which happened in the afternoon.
I left her parents at the cemetery when it was all over; they wanted me to go back home with them for tea, but I said I had to get down to Southampton that night. I hadn't, but I had got to be alone. I went back to my cheap hotel near Euston Station, and went up into the bare, white bedroom, and sat down on the bed. I must have sat there for two hours or more, just staring at the wall ahead of me.
You can only do a thing for the first time once, and that goes for falling in love. You may do it over and over again afterwards, but it's never the same. When you chuck away what's given to you that first time, it's chucked away for good. I started chucking it away when I married Beryl and went off to Egypt, leaving her alone.
You can be very, very cruel just by acting with restraint, and everyone will say what a good chap you are.
You can kill somebody just by doing nothing, and be complimented at the inquest.
You can be absolutely right all through. And what you'll get for it is a memory of happiness that might have been, if you had acted a bit kinder.
I might have dozed a bit that night—I don't know. I know that I heard every hour strike from a church clock outside my room.
I had to go and report to the Company next day, and that, of course, was at Morden, just by her house. I had to go down again to the same Underground station, and there were the same red buses rattling the same Diesel engines at the bus stop by the entrance where we had said good-bye. She had said, "I'll be terribly lost without you." She had been.
I stood staring at the place by the Metroland poster where I had stood holding her in my arms, stood there in a daze. I had told her that it was only for two years. She had said miserably, "It sounds like as if it was for ever." It had been.
It was there that she had stood waving me good-bye.
I turned away, and walked up the main road through the shopping part before turning off up Aerodrome Lane to the works. And now I was scared stiff that I'd meet her Dad or Mum out doing the shopping, or some of her family. I don't know why it was, but I was afraid to meet them, and I knew as I walked up to the works that I could never work in that place again. I'd never have the courage to walk round those streets as we had walked together, or go to the picture house that we had used, or lunch in the works canteen where we had lunched.
The Managing Director, Mr. Norman Evans, he was very nice to me. I think he must have heard about my trouble, because
when I said that I'd been back two days and I'd had personal things to see to first, he said quickly, "I know, Cutter. Things get a bit tangled up when one's away for a long time. I'm very sorry indeed." And then he went on to talk about the work, so that I didn't have to answer.
The business was all upset, of course, because it had been expanded greatly in the war years with war orders, and now those had come to an end and it was having to contract again. It's easy enough to expand an aviation business, but it's bloody difficult to get it back to what it was before. Mr. Evans couldn't have been nicer. "I want to tell you how much I appreciate the job you did in Egypt," he said. "We've got to make a lot of changes now. What I want you to do is to take over the whole of our repair and servicing side in the British Isles—here, and at Bristol and at Belfast."
It was a first-class job, of course, as good as any I could hope to get. I was only thirty-one years old. "The main office would be here, sir, I suppose?" I asked. "I'd do most of the work from here, and travel to Bristol and Belfast?"
"That's right," he said. "I thought you might take over Mr. Holden's old office. I'll have that room next to it divided into two, and you can have your secretary in there unless you want her in the room with you." Then he went on to talk about the salary, which was good, and as we talked I knew that it would never work. Unless I came to work each day by helicopter I'd have to use the same streets and the same Underground and the same passages and roads about the works that I had walked with Beryl.
I said presently, "I've got a month's leave due to me, sir. Can I take that now?"
"That's right," he said. He glanced at the calendar. "Oh, well, that takes us up to Christmas. Suppose we say you'll start immediately after that."
I thanked him, and agreed, and then he took me for a walk around the works and we talked about the layout of the place, and what parts we would shut down or use as stores, and how the rest of it should be reorganized. I had only half my mind on the job. At every corner there was some new place I had forgotten
about where I had walked and talked with Beryl in the lunch hour. When finally Mr. Evans asked me to stay and lunch in the canteen I couldn't take it any longer, and I said that if he'd excuse me I'd get off down to my home in Southampton that afternoon.
As I walked down to the Underground, looking furtively around in case there were some of the Cousins family about, I knew it was impossible. I couldn't go back there to work. I'd have been off my rocker in a fortnight.
I got my bag and paid my bill at the hotel, and went to Waterloo and caught a train down to Southampton. I got there in the late afternoon, and took a bus to the gasworks, and walked home from there. Our street, between the gasworks and the docks, hadn't suffered much in the blitz; old Mrs. Tickle's house had gone, and Mrs. Tickle with it, but that was the only damage actually in our street, and that had been done before I went to Egypt.
I was surprised at how small it all looked now. I knew it was dirty, because you can't keep houses clean between the gasworks and the docks, but I had not realized till then how small the houses were, how small and mean the shops. As I got near our house I could see that an upstairs window was broken and shut up with windowlite tacked over the frame; they had written to tell me about that, done by a flying bomb that fell into Montgomery Street in July 1944. I thought that while I was home I'd build up the frame and get a bit of glass and do that for them, even if it was the landlord's job.
I went in at the street door that opened straight into the living room and there was Ma laying the table for tea; it was getting on for five o'clock when Dad would be knocking off at the docks. I put my suitcase down. "I'm back, Ma," I said quietly.
She said, "Oh, Tom! You're looking so brown!" And when she'd kissed me she said, "We know about poor Beryl, Tom. We're all ever so sorry."
"How did you get to know?" I asked.
"Mrs. Cousins wrote and told us," she replied. "There was a bit about it in the paper, too. It's been a sad homecoming for you, boy."
"That's right," I said heavily. "Nothing to be done about it
now, though, and the least said the better." She took the hint and she must have dropped a word to Dad, because they never bothered me with questions.
We had plenty of other things to talk about, though, specially when Dad came home. I'd written to them regularly while I was away, and they'd got young Ted's school atlas and marked on it all the places that I'd been to, and it made a sort of spider's web all over the Near East. I had some photographs that I'd collected from time to time, and after we'd done the washing up I got these out and showed them and told them all about it. My sister Joyce came in with her husband Joe Morton who kept the greengrocer's shop in Allenby Street just round the corner, and he brought a couple of bottles of beer in, and I sat talking and telling them about it all till nearly ten o'clock.
When they had gone and Dad and I were sitting with a final cigarette before the fire, and Ted and Ma had gone up to bed, Dad said to me, "What comes next, boy?"
"I don't know." I told him about the job I had been offered that morning, and I told him something about my great unwillingness to go back to Morden. He asked, "What's the pay like?"
"Nine hundred a year," I told him.
He opened his eyes. "That's twice what I get. Three times what I ever got before the war. You're getting on in the world, boy."
"I know," I said. "It's a good job and I'd be a bloody fool to turn it down. But it's no good working in a place that's going to send you round the bend."
"You're looking tired," he said. "You'll feel different when you've had a bit of a rest. How long leave have you got?"
"They're giving me a month," I told him. "Till after Christmas. I haven't had a day off since I went out to Egypt."
He said in wonder, "I never had more'n a week's holiday in all my life. Are they paying you?"
"My Cairo pay goes on till the end of December," I said.
"Do you spend it all?"
I shook my head. "I've got a good bit saved up." I hesitated. "I was saving up for furniture."
Ted was the only one of the family still living at home; he was